Friday
Oct082010

Heather Bristow 'Hope On The Vine' Self-Release

The North Carolina native now lives in Gloucestershire in the UK. These she carried on her interest in playing bluegrass and folk music and formed a duo High Lonesome. This is her first album under her own name and it's a good one. Her voice lives up to the name of her previous band and her original songs are perfect vehicles for her voice. The players, which include producer Ben Winship, do a great job and there is never any doubt about the music strengths and authenticity. She cover life and death and in between with songs like Who's Gonna Tend Your Grave?, Aint Glory Grand? and Counting Memories cover the loss side. The Miner's Tale could as easily be on a Steeleye Span album as one from Appalachia, it's acapella delivery makes it an album highlight, as is the duet with John Lowell Lonesome Lullaby. Despite the bittersweet subject matter of some of the songs they are always delivered with a sense of positivity and hope. All in all if your a bluegrass or just a fan of good acoustic music then Hope On The Vine will bear fruit for the listener.

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