Friday
Oct082010

Rosanne Cash 'The List' Manhattan

The story about how these songs came about is, by now, well know so here are 12 songs which formed a part of the 100 important country songs. They are oft covered and well know so it's a tribute to Cash and producers John Leventhal and Rick DePofi that they give them in Cash's hands a new perspective one that his tailored to her emotive and perceptive voice, an instrument that has gained much through the years. On a number of tracks she is joined by a guest vocalist, some of whom add more to the overall effect than others. Bruce Springsteen is a good duet partner on Sea Of Heartbreak, singing the chorus and a verse with Cash. As is Elvis Costello's who sings the choruses on Heartaches By The Number and again what comes across on this album, and many of the similar cover albums released recently, is the strength and integrity of these songs. These are on a list because they are simply strong words and melodies that have stood the test of time. The arrangements here are not overtly "country" but always aware of the songs origins. They are equally, for the most part, suitably sparse and refreshingly understated allowing the vocals to tell the story, to breathe life into the songs. Though an accomplished writer herself Cash takes these songs to heart, makes them her own and delivers one of her finest albums. 

Friday
Oct082010

Rick Shea 'Shelter Valley Blues' Tres Pescadores

The California country stalwart has come up with another good diverse and diverting set for his fifth solo studio album. Shea's distinctive voice is the centre of these songs,which are mostly self-written with a couple of co-writes and a interesting cover of the Waterboys' Fisherman's Blues. Shea has produced, engineered the album in his home studio, as well as playing guitar, dobro, pedal steel and mandolin. He is a part of the still thriving Californian scene and maintains a direct link to the Bakersfield Sound. Though he may not have the voice of a Merle Haggard he is in the same ballpark. The song also, on occasion, head south of the border as with the Rosie Flores co-write Sweet Little Pocha, which features Los Lobos' David Hidalgo on accordian. Another diversion is Steady Drivin' Man which evokes an earlier era with its featured clarinet. Ty Robby has a campfire/celtic feel and features some fine harmonies from Moira Smiley. The Haleiwa Shuffle, which was recorded in Honolulu has, naturally, a strong Hawaiian music feel on what starts out as an instrumental but ends with a vocal interlude.  All of which makes this latest album one that covers an number of options and entertains on its own terms. www.rickshea.net 

Friday
Oct082010

Joe Nichols 'Old Things New' Humphead

There may be some things about Joe Nichols that may remind long term country fans of Randy Travis, this is best evidenced by the title track here, a song written by three men who have been around the block a time or two and understand the reality of a country song. That trio is Bill Anderson, Paul Overstreet and Buddy Cannon. Anderson and Cannon contribute another good song, this time written with neo-traditionalist Jamey Johnson. Cheaper Than A Shrink may have been written with the tongues firmly in cheeks. But given that Nichols had substance abuse problems himself may be somewhat an ironic choice but it works. With A Team players and a Music Row production it is country music with mainstream radio play firmly in mind which means there's a lot of polish and perfection at play here. Nichols has a strong voice and with the right songs delivers a credible performance that finds him on of the more traditional artists currently on a major label and Old Things New is a showcase for where that side of the mainstream is right now. 

Friday
Oct082010

John Miller 'Still Carrying A Flame' Folk 'n' Western

It's often the case that albums, especially independent releases, that receive good critical reviews don't find them translating into actual sales. Rather good reviews can often mean the opposite. Then if your making music is largely associated with a particular country then it's that much harder. But in the end it comes down to the music and John Miller has made the best album of his career, one which goes back to his band Radio Sweethearts who released their debut, New Memories, in 1996. Since then Miller has refined his craft. This new album has twelve original Miller songs that resonate with traditional country themes and musical styles. The band is supportive and praise worthy throughout feature his own band and friends, such as former label boss and Teenage Fanclub drummer Francis MacDonald, guitarist Martin Barrett, as well as the legendary B.J. Cole on pedal steel. The production by Miller and Duncan Cameron is clean, warm and welcoming. The songs those beloved by many traditional fans songs that deal with loss and heartbreak delivered with conviction. My Dreaming Party, Tiny Sweetheart Roses, I Just Can't Live Without You are all personal highlights on an album that is consistently good and one I've returned to many times. There seems to be an feeling among some that anything emerging from the UK can't equal that from the USA. Not true, there are many examples of acts from the UK and Ireland that are more than worthy exponents of their craft. John Miller is one of them and if you want to find out for yourself just go to his my space page and have a listen.http://www.myspace.com/johnmillerandhiscountrycasuals

Friday
Oct082010

Kevin Welch 'A Patch Of Blue' Sky Music Road

Always a strong writer and recognizable singer Kevin Welch has been making his mark for quite a few years now, as a solo artist, as a member of the Dead Reckoners and with Kane, Welch, Kaplan. This new album finds him recording in Texas with musicians like Glenn Fukunaga, Bukka Allen, Rick Richards and his band mate Fats Kaplan as well as his son Dustin Welch. The songs are well up to his usual standard and are all written or co-written by Welch and are set here in a relaxed roots style setting that has that definable Austin, Texas feel. His concerns are exemplified with a song like The Great Emancipation which deals with spirit and belief and overcoming the inevitable hard times. The songs also deal with location, with leaving, with seeking and finding. Andaman Sea has the sonic depth of a cello as a foundation to the accordion and acoustic guitar backing. It is again Welch's worn voice that brings the song it's focus and depth. Something that is true throughout this album. Those who have listened to Welch throughout his career know his worth and are, like me, delighted to have him back with an album of his own, one that is well up there with his best work, sonorous and sensuous. A patch of blue sky in an often increasingly gray sky. www.kevinwelch.com