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Showing posts from July 19, 2015

ALBUM REVIEW: Special Consensus - 35 (Compass Records)

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Special Consensus marks the band's thirty-fifth year in bluegrass music with the stellar new recording "35." And Special C (as the band is affectionately known) have produced twelve remarkable tracks that should enhance the band's already sterling musical reputation.
Founded in 1975, Special Consensus is a bluegrass music institution with a long list of talented members and former members. "35" prominently features band founder Greg Cahill (banjo and vocals), and the album begins with six new songs and ends with six classic favorites. "Dusk 'Til Dawn" starts the album off with a bang, and the harmonization is pitch-perfect.

The project really comes into its own with the sincere "Used To These Old Blues" the instrumental "Danny's Dance" and the acappella/gospel-flavored "Land Up In The Air." However, the best country song on the album (and the best chance for a mainstream country chart hit) is the terrific &q…

ALBUM REVIEW: Chris Knight - Heart of Stone

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Until now, there was little argument that the masterpiece of Chris Knight's five-album career was his debut self-titled offering "Chris Knight." Although his first album probably still comes out on top due to its piercing lyrics and haunting melodies, any Chris Knight fan or reviewer could make a compelling case that "Heart of Stone" is the best record of his career.
As a songwriter, Chris Knight is truly without many equals in country music, but he is still one of the country's best kept secrets. While Knight is from Kentucky, he is a star on the vibrant Texas music scene. But most mainstream country fans probably know him more for his songwriting with songs like "It Ain't Easy Being Me." Even though he was once almost always compared with Steve Earle, Chris Knight has moved past these comparisons and crafted a true work of art that he painstakingly and passionately presents in "Heart of Stone."

Although Knight's first album exp…

ALBUM REVIEW: Charlie Haden - Rambling Boy

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Charlie Haden is known as one of the greatest jazz bassists in music, but he returns to the folk and bluegrass music of his childhood in his new Americana gem which is aptly titled "Rambling Boy."
This album shines a bright light on Haden's musical heritage and is reminiscent of the sound and feel of the "O Brother Where Art Thou" projects. Like the aforementioned albums, "Rambling Boy" also brings to the forefront his illustrious set of friends, including Vince Gill, Ricky Skaggs, Elvis Costello, Pat Metheny and Bruce Hornsby along with members of his prominent family such as The Decemberists' Petra Haden and Tanya Hade and her husband, actor Jack Black.

The album starts out strong with an irresistibly toe-tapping cut titled "Single Girl, Married Girl" and ends with one of the best versions of "Oh Shenandoah" ever recorded. Of course, with Haden's vast access to the world's best musical talent, the production is flawle…

Enjoy A Drive With Jamie Richards

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We were pleasantly surprised to find a copy of Jamie Richards' fine 2007 release "Drive" waiting for us in the office mail last week. So, of course, we listened to the D Records release most of the day and were thrilled to hear that the third single from the album, "Back To Bein' Me," has been released to radio. This comes on the heels of Jamie's success with his title track,"Drive," which vaulted to Number One on the Texas Music Chart and the Texas Regional Radio Report earlier this year.
As many of you know, Jamie Richards is an Oklahoma boy who grew up working on a dairy farm. We can't think of any finer upbringing for a future Texas country star who eventually found his way to Curb Records as a staff writer. Like the title from one of Jamie's songs, his life was a "Country Song Waiting To Happen."
Jamie Richards is a traditional country artist who confidently sings the lyrics he writes while rejecting pop-influenced cou…

ALBUM REVIEW: Matthew Ballard - Midnight Drive

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Singer-songwriter Matthew Ballard offers up a heaping pile of honky-tonk magic in his sterling sophomore release - "Midnight Drive." The album is a polished mixture of the best Americana and Alt-Country. Plus, "Midnight Drive" is one self-produced album that could be mistaken for a major label release.
Ballard wrote all 11 songs on the album. The project starts out strong with the song "Run Away With Me" that should be getting major spins on Texas radio. But the best track on the album is titled "Chains." Any Chris Knight fan will immediately warm to this outstanding cut which blends a real-life story with a great melody and good vocals.

The album itself is laid back and almost never over-reaches. But the real key to Ballard's success on "Midnight Drive" is that almost every cut has a memorable hook. For instance "Clear Blue Skies" would be instantly welcomed by any fan of the Randy Rogers Band or Wade Bowen.

Not ever…

ALBUM REVIEW: Old Crow Medicine Show - Tennessee Pusher

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Old Crow Medicine Show have relentlessly toured and made their name as a hardworking folk and old time-style country band with musicians who were influenced by the MTV generation. While "Tennessee Pusher" is a very good album, Old Crow Medicine Show's grueling tour schedule probably kept this album from actually being great.

Although it didn't reach a level of greatness, the news is not all bad - quite the contrary. Famed producer Don Was (Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan) ensures that OCMS shines brightly, and the performances rendered are often reminiscent of the band's very famous and rollicking live shows. However, the tight production may have taken away some of the spontaneity of the band's previous albums.
Nevertheless, "Tennessee Pusher" is a very good album indeed, and the band's influences of 1980s and 1990s radio is readily evident - and even surprising at times. Old Crow Medicine Show is not your dad's folk or country band. Songs like …

SINGLE REVIEW: Mark McKinney - Stompin' Ground

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Red Dirt fans have an extra reason to celebrate with the single release of Mark McKinney's Texas Music anthem "Stompin' Ground." This track just hit the Top 5 and is from Mark McKinney's widely acclaimed debut album "Get It On." McKinney had already charted an impressive 3 singles on the Texas Music Chart. And, now, he's taking a victory lap with his fourth hit, which is a rowdy, meat and potatoes country masterpiece.
As usual with Mark McKinney, "Stompin' Ground" is a well-written song with a memorable hook. But this track is special. The lyrics and hard-driving beat take the listener back in time and allow us to relive the best moments of our past. He sings:
"This is where I discovered love...where I was young and crazy. This is where I became a man. I faced those demons and I took my stand...This is where it all went down. This is my old stomping ground." The single is authentic and wears well with repeated listens, so &q…

ALBUM REVIEW: Derek Sholl - Here

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Derek Sholl expected to have a career in baseball after being drafted by the Kansas City Royals, where he discovered his love of country music stars like Alan Jackson and Randy Travis. After an injury sidelined his baseball dreams, he got serious about a country music career and ended up with a successful Las Vegas country stage show. To top it off, he became a friend and opening act of Jay Leno at the Mirage.
Derek Sholl's album "Here" features the former pro-baseball player's strong, polished vocals and songwriting skill. The album's title cut and current single seeks to showcase the classic country voice of Derek Sholl, and it succeeds. Like many new male country artists, the musical influence of Alan Jackson is also evident on some of the tracks. And that's a good thing.

The hard-rockin' "Pour Me A Double" is among the best songs on the album and gives listeners a glimpse of the power and energy they will find at Derek Sholl's popular …

ALBUM REVIEW: Johnny Cash - Johnny Cash Remixed

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Johnny Cash is introduced to a new a generation of music fans with "Johnny Cash Remixed," an album where top DJs remix classic Johnny Cash tunes which were licensed from the legendary Sun Records. And the album succeeds in maintaining Cash's real-man persona and charm while sampling and mixing his vocals with new beats.Of course, the legacy of Johnny Cash has had an impact on virtually every music genre, including rap, rock and soul. The first song on "Johnny Cash Remixed" showcases the unlikely combo of Snoop Dogg and Cash on "I Walk the Line." The song is interesting, but the mistake is that Cash's vocals sound like they are coming from a boombox while Snoop's rap is at normal volume.
Thankfully, producers decided against offering any supercharged dance or electronica-styled remixes, and the style of most of the music is more of an ambient style that will allow longtime fans of Cash to at least appreciate this album enough to offer it to th…

ALBUM REVIEW: Bleu Edmondson - Live At Billy Bob's Texas

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BleuEdmondson is a great live artist, and the limited edition CD/DVD combo of "Live At Billy Bob's" showcases the live performer in good form. And the DVD by itself is worth the full price of the 2 disc set.
At his heart, BleuEdmondson is a talented singer-songwriter who began writing songs at age 19 and later started a band when he was 22. His career was forever changed after he wrote a letter to Lloyd Maines who welcomed him into his country music family. Maines gave Bleu Edmondson the industry credibility he needed to start his career.

Edmondson's first album "Southland" produced two of his signature tracks "50 Dollars And A Flask of Crown" and "Travelin' Man" which are highlights of "Live At Billy Bob's Texas. Three other top tunes on the album are taken from Edmondson's "Lost Boy" album including "American Saint," "Jesus Is Crying" and "The Echo (Maybe Tonight)."

The raw emo…

SINGLE REVIEW: Rich O'Toole - In A Minute Or 2

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Rich O'Toole had four hit singles with his debut album "Seventeen," and Texas country music fans were thrilled to accept O'Toole's new album "In A Minute Or 2" and its uptempo title track that has a killer hook and great lyrics.
In the single "In A Minute Or 2," Rich O'Toole offers up another memorable hit record and promises "In a minute or two, I'll come back for you." which will certainly thrill his large and growing fan base.

Rich O'Toole wrote "In A Minute Or 2" right after "Seventeen" was released, and O'Toole says he had a hard time waiting to release the song. O'Toole said his music is about "surviving the real world." Certainly, this hit record proves that this twentysomething artist is definitely a survivor, and the single seems to reflect his own real life and loves.

O'Toole grew up in Houston and turned to music after a baseball career was sidelined by injury. So Ric…

ALBUM REVIEW: Jason Allen - The Twilight Zone

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If real country music is what you want, then Jason Allen offers it up by the bucket load in his new album "The Twilight Zone."One of the unlikely standouts on the album is a cover of Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called To Say I Love You." Amazingly, Jason Allen makes the R&B track sound like a traditional country classic by crafting a smooth vocal performance combined with great country musicianship from the band.
It is Jason Allen's pure country voice that makes him shine brighter as a country star than many of his contemporaries. Allen never struggles to hit the right note and his vocals never seem strained. It's like Allen is channeling the voice of George Strait from the 1980s or early 1990s.

One other major success on the album is the track "He's Still Dancing With Her" which Allen wrote after watching his father on the dance floor. It's a touching and genuine song that pays tribute to the successful partnership that heavily infl…

ALBUM REVIEW: Billy Joe Shaver - Everybody's Brother

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On "Everybody's Brother," Billy Joe Shaver sings: "If you don't love Jesus, go to hell." This is certainly a fitting sentiment for the country gospel themed album titled "Everybody's Brother" which features Shaver on his own and with country music luminaries such as Johnny Cash, Tanya Tucker, John Anderson, Kris Kristofferson and Marty Stuart.
Even though Shaver has some powerful duet partners on the album, it is Billy Joe Shaver's solo performance of his classic "When I Get My Wings" that still sends a shiver down the spine. And the aforementioned and rocking "If You Don't Love Jesus" also shows that Shaver is still an outlaw at heart.

No one ever said life was easy for Billy Joe Shaver. He lost a few fingers in a lumber mill accident. Since then, he has had more family and personal issues than virtually any of his contemporaries.
The song "No Earthly Good" resonates with its strong lyrics and confident…

ALBUM REVIEW: Wade Bowen - If We Ever Make It Home

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Wade Bowen scores big with a healthy, Red Dirt meal full of new Texas country classics in his new album "If We Ever Make It Home."

Bowen's first single is a classic country heartbreak song that is surprisingly bright and uptempo. And it has already become a hit on Texas radio. Wade Bowen's positive, romantic theme continues with "From Bad To Good" and "Turn On The Lights" which reference his wife, Shelby, and her struggle to overcome postpartum depression.
"Missing You," “Ghost In This Town” and the hard rocking “Nobody’s Fool” offer advice on moving on after a relationship ends while "Daddy and the Devil" and "Trouble" offer warnings about temptation.

The key to Wade Bowen's success is his pure country voice that distinguishes his music in the crowded country field. The emotion of the lyrics ring true and the production is flawless as usual.
Wade Bowen has done it again. This is a Red Dirt album with red meat wai…

ALBUM REVIEW: Rock Ridge - Drifter's Prayer

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Review: Dale Ann Bradley - Somewhere South Of Crazy

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One could imagine that when bluegrass music legend Dale Ann Bradley sings, God himself smiles in heaven above. This may sound like lavish praise, but it only does if you have never heard the golden voiced singer who was named IBMA "female vocalist of the year" three years in a row (2007 - 2009). Now, you'll find Dale Ann Bradley in a place "Somewhere South Of Crazy,"  and it's one loony bin you'll never, ever want to leave
The album begins with the title track "Somewhere South Of Crazy." As usual with Compass Records' projects, the production is top-notch, and the song is a mid-tempo feast for the ears. Likewise, Bradley's voice has aged perfectly, and the artist has never sounded better.

"Round And Round" is a bluegrass/country track with superb instrumentation, and the artistic interpretation of "Summer Breeze" will leave bluegrass fans reveling in musical pleasure. However, the biggest surprise of the album is th…

Review: Nell Robinson On The Brooklyn Road - By Nell Robinson

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Bluegrass fans need to sit up and take notice: Nell Robinson's debut album was no fluke.This is conclusively proven by the fascinating talent on display in Robinson's sophomore release "Nell Robinson On The Brooklyn Road," which establishes the artist as a force to be reckoned with in roots music.
The album begins with the first full track "Woe Is Me," which has a charming bluegrass flavor mixed with elements of gospel. However, it is the folk cut "Mayflies" where Robinson's talent truly shines.

The biggest surprise on the album is the joyous sing-a-long song "Don't Light My Fire." This track has radio chart potential. The sincere "Wahatchee" has a cool Dolly Parton meets Loretta Lynn vibe that works. "Wahatchee" is by far the best song on the album, and Robinson's voice has never sounded better.

The classic "I Saw The Light" is given a fresh coat of paint with Robinson's terrific interpret…

Country Album Review: Rock Ridge: Drifter's Prayer

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As the bluegrass community awaits the new album from the group Rock Ridge, some people may not be aware of the Northern California band's debut album titled "Drifter's Prayer." However, it is not to be missed.
"Drifter's Prayer" begins with tight harmonies on  the cut "Blue Eyed Boston Boy." The track has a quiet but palpable confidence that is winning, and the instrumentation is almost flawless. The traditional "Quiet My Love" impresses as well, but it is the upbeat "Tom Dooley" that showcases the unbridled musical joy that makes Rock Ridge a favorite with concert audiences. "From Now On" has much of the same charm.

The biggest surprise on Rock Ridge's album is the contemporary bluegrass song "Won't You Come and Sing For Me," which emerges as the record's best cut and could find radio chart success. The mountain music song "Hills A 'Callin' Me" is pitch perfect, and "…