Album Reviews

by Willie Morgan of Diamond Media Productions

LAST UPDATED: 21st July 2002

WILLIE's STAR RATINGS:

*not so hot; **a decent effort; ***a good album - check it out; ****excellent; *****a must-add to your collection!

 

***** truly magnificent

Beth Nielsen Chapman - Deeper Still (Sanctuary) This remarkable woman faces more in adversity than anyone ought, but has always emerged the stronger for it. Her 1997 masterpiece "Sand & Water" followed the death of her husband Ernest, and now "Deeper Still" has had to endure a considerable gestation, whilst she was treated for breast cancer. The result is stupendous. The set opens with "World of Hurt", a song she wrote with Bill Lloyd, which was the title track of the Dutch singer Ilse Delange's 1998 debut album. Here, Beth is joined on it by John Hiatt. In fact, on this album, she performs a few duets: "Every December Sky" with John Prine, which is beautiful; "Shake My Soul" (another hit for Faith Hill, like "This Kiss", perhaps?) and "Wait For The Way" both with Bonnie Raitt; "There's A Light" with Emmylou Harris, and the title track with Vince Gill. Her co-writer on "Deeper Still", David Wilcox first premiered the song on his "What You Whispered" album, though not with her sensitivity. I confess, her songs touch me like no other, and much respect to her collaborator on several here, the talented Annie Roboff. Truly magnificent. Out now in the UK.

 

***** great stuff, again

Dolly Parton - Halos & Horns (Sanctuary/Sugar Hill) Another collection from Ms. Parton, following the huge critical success of "The Grass Is Blue" and "Little Sparrow".I've been a huge fan since my days as her UK Promotion Manager at RCA, and I've always loved the homely 'mountain music'. Here, she re-visits "Shattered Image", a single back in'76, and "What A Heartache" (from the 1984 'Rhinestone' soundtrack). The album kicks off with the title track, a good ole waltz, and continues with "Sugar Hill" a nostalgic song about a young girl's romantic thoughts - though her U.S. record company will enjoy the title! "These Old Bones" is one where she portrays an aged soothsayer from the mountains and the daughter, who was taken from her, whilst "Dagger Though The Heart" is destined to become a bluegrass classic. She has also found time to turn David Gates' "If" out in a new 'accoustic coat' (banjo and all), and the album closes with its biggest talking point: an audacious accoustic/bluegrass re-working of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven" She's turned it almost into a spititual. A couple of lyrical changes meant seeking the approval of Messrs. Plant & Page. Robert said that he always felt it was spititual song - no problem. She's playing here in October - I cannot wait! Out now in the UK.

 

*** good value

Linda Gail Lewis - Out Of The Shadows (Ten35) An unusual album, on which we get ten songs plus seven 'bonus' songs. More about those bonuses later. The thing taht strikes me first, is the funky arrangements, like those that used to emanate from Memphis and Muscle Shoals. Cool! Having just come off the back of an album and tour with Van Morrison, she may have made alot of new friends, and they won't be diappointed with this collection. It's good to hear the backing vocals of the Jordanaires on "Love So Real", "Out of the Shadows" and the souped-up "Treat Me Like A Lady", though sadly, Dwayne West has since died. "The Sweetest Love" is one real late night listen (al la Solomon Burke); "What A Beautiful Day" was a favourite with my listeners at Ritz 1035. The albium 'closes' with a new recording of "I'd Rather Stay Home and Rock & Roll", with the video tacked on the end of the CD. Then we get the seven bonuses - all of Stuart Colman's productions on her 1999 eponymous album, released by Sire, which I recall playing in full, when she joined me on one of my 'Red Hot & Country' radio shows.Good value from Ms. Lewis, though fresh liner notes wouldn't have hurt!. It's certainly more than just 'country'. Out soon in the UK.

***** breathtaking

Allison Moorer- Miss Fortune (Universal South) I've held back from reviewing Allison's third album, whilst I awaited the 'finished' CD complete with booklet and full liner notes. It was impossible to glean any info from the advance copy. That said, this really is a wonderfully produced collection of well-crafted songs. Producer R.S. Field and his co-producer Doyle 'Butch' Primm (Allison's husband and longtime writing collaborator) has eased her further away from the Country mainstream, and she's now in much the same vein that her sister, Shelby Lynne, is currently sojourning. The album's opener "Tumbling Down" is a winner and I love "Cold In California"; that said, "Steal The Sun" is breathtaking - a real torch number. This may become my Album of the Year. Be sure to catch her on her UK tour throughout July. Out 8th July in the UK.

*** a real Best of

BR 5-49- The Best of (Gravity) An astute piece of repackaging of their BMG/Arista material, now they have moved onto Sony/Lucky Dog (see review below). Seventeen tracks here culled from "Live At Robert's", "BR 5-49", "Big Backyard Beat Show" and "Coast To Coast Live", plus 3 previously unreleased tracks. It, predictably, kicks off with their cover of Moon Mullican's 1951 hit "Cherokee Boogie" and includes all of their favourites. Whilst at their live shows they are likely to perform many covers, they tend to record original songs, written in the main by Gary Bennett & Chuck Mead. However, included here are fine interpretations of Gram Parsons' "Hickory Wind", Billy Joe Shaver's "Georgia On A Fast Train", Hank Williams' "A House Of Gold", and Charlie Daniels' "Uneasy River" A special mention for Mark Hagen's excellent liner notes.Out soon in the UK.

 

*** another real Best of

The Tractors - Rockin' It: The Best of (Gravity) Once again, a repackaging job of their BMG/Arista material (well, 2 of the 3 albums - nothing here from their excellent Christmas CD!), as to all intents and purposes, The Tractors no longer exist. Sure they have a new deal with Audium and an album called "Fast Girl", but nowdays the band is just Steve Ripley and session musos. Actually, The Tractors were always a bit of a one-man band, despite Ripley's seasoned sidemen Walt Richmond, Ron Getman, Casey Van Beek and Jamie Oldlaker. All the faves are included here: "Baby Likes To Rock It" (shame they could include the brilliant accompanying video), "Tryin' To Get To New Orleans", "Shortenin' Bread", "The Tulsa Shuffle" plus "The Elvis Thing", which is great, and on which they're joined by the legendary Scotty Moore, D.J. Fontana, and James Burton. After enjoying these 12 tracks, you'll need to acquire their eponymously titled debut album and "Farmers In A Changing World". More excellent liner notes from Mr. Hagen. Out soon in the UK.

*** no filler here

James Yorkston & The Athletes - Moving Up Country (Domino) The debut abum from Fife-born James, and it's not difficult to see why this album is picking up great reviews, elsewhere. As soon as we received the album, we played "Sweet Jesus" on the Captain America programme, and it will not be the last, I am sure. The feel is very much of that late 60s-Folk era, and that might explain why John Martyn had the band on his last British tour. "St. Patrick" will be issued as a single on 8th July, and deserves wide exposure. There's no filler here, with the shortest track (the opener "In Your Hands") about 3 min 30 sec, and several others are 5 mins plus. All ten tracks were written by Yorkston, and are deeply personal. Expect to hear plenty more of James Yorkston.Out soon in the UK.

*** breathtakingly fresh

Fil Campbell - Beneath The Calm (Lahina UK) She's newly signed to Lahina UK, though this is her third solo album. Formerly a presenter on BBC Radio Ulster (there's hope for us all, I guess), she currently resides in a border village in Co. Down, though this album was recorded in Dublin. It opens with "Somebody Up There" from the pen of Mick Hanly, one of Ireland's top tunesmiths, and it's really good. Otherwise, most of the other 9 tracks are her own compositions. The purity and clarity of her voice makes every one of them enjoyable. We first homed in on "I Still Think Of You", on Captain America, but the next time Nick is feeling a little blue, I'll suggest we play "Even Then", with its subtle Latin rhythm. Breathtakingly fresh. Out 24th June in the UK.

*** another fine album

Mary Gauthier - Filth & Fire (Munich) After enjoying and playing her last album "Drag Queens In Limousines", Nick & I were looking forward to "Filth & Fire" - and we were not disappointed. This native of Louisiana (whose name is pronounced Go-Shay) has teamed up with Texas-based producer Gurf Morlix (Lucinda Williams, Slaid Cleaves), and there's more than a hint of Lucinda in some of the songs (eg "Long way To Fall"). "Sugar Cane", which she co-wrote with Catie Curtis has all the flavours of the Gulf of Mexico, and is stunning. Another fine addition to the Captain America collection. Out now in the UK.

**** welcome back

The Flatlanders - Now Again(New West) Some might argue that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, though that is debatable, in this instance. Certainly Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock and Joe Ely are all stars in their own right, but together the combine beautifully, for example on "Down In The Light Of The Melon Moon" one of several they co-wrote.Whilst Gilmore's voice is SO distinctive, it is a real thrill to hear Ely singing new material. It's good to have you guys back! Out now in the UK

***worth investigation

Chuck Prophet - No Other Love (New West) Chuck took the solo road after eight albums with Green On Red, and now his sixth solo effort is his debut for New West. He's had some top customers for his songs, like Kelly Willis and Kim Richey. Indeed, Kim performed their co-composition "Break You Down" live on the Captain America show, the last time I deputised for Nick on Ritz 1035, back in Aug. 2001. "No Other Love" is an album of attitude and strong material. I can recommend the title track, the single "Summertime Thing", "What Makes The Monkey Dance", "After The Rain"and "Elouise". Well worth further investigation.Out now in the UKl.

**** good stuff

Kenny Chesney - No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problem (BNA) One of the most requested artists I have ever played on my shows on Ritz 1035, this album has brought Chesney onto a new plane.It has already cracked the Billboard Top 10 (Pop) albums, and it does have something a little bit special. For me, it's the truly commendable cover of Springsteen's "One Step Up", though there are plenty of other good songs, like the opening track "Young", which proved an instant hit with my listeners. Good stuff . Out now in the UK.

*** well worth checking

The Be Good Tanyas - Blue Horse (Nettwerk) These three ramblin' gals (as descibed in their press release) from Vancouver (Samantha Parton, Frazey Ford and Trish Klein) have been compared to Gillian Welch, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Iris Dement, and Alison Krauss (among others), and they certainly seem to have Gillian's dress-sense (!). This enchanting album has gained them many friends in The U.K., resulting in return visits here. The opening track "The Littlest Birds" has just been released as a single (no doubt, following the airplay on our Captain America programme), and if you like your music accoustic, the album is well worth checking out at your local store.! Out now in the UK

 

***add to collection

Steve Earle - Sidetracks (E-Squared/Artemis) Steve describes this as a collection of "unreleased or underexposed" songs, and it opens with "Some Dreams", a U.S. single, written for Denis Quaid's new Disney baseball movie 'The Rookie'. Also included is "Me And The Eagle" (from 'The Horse Whisperer'), The Chambers Brothers' "Time Has Come Today", with Sheryl Crow (from 'Steal This Movie', but a previously unreleased version); "Ellis Unit One" (from 'Dead Men Walking', but an alt. take featuring The Fairfield Four), plus covers of Dylan's "My Back Pages" and Nirvana's "Breed" (a bonus track on the Japanese version of 'Transcendental Blues'). I just love his bash at The Slickers' "Johnny Too Bad", which I saw him perform with the V-Roys at Shepherds Bush Empire, a few years back. A worthy mention also to a great version of Lowell George's "Willin'" which he does beautifully with Tim O'Brien & Darrell Scott, who can also be heard on the Flying Burritos' "My Uncle". Another addition to the collection!Out in the UK: 22nd April.

***really good songs

Vigilantes of Love - Summershine (Compass) Another band from Athens, Georgia, and like R.E.M. it is the memorable melodies that first register. Bill Mallonee grew up on British pop and the Beatles/Kinks/Who influences are quite apparent, but there again there is alot of 80s-PowerPop in here, too. There's some really good songs here, including "You Know That", "Galaxy", "I Could Be Wrong", and "Sailors". They made a lot of friends with "Audible Sigh" and they'll make a few more with "Summershine". Out now in the UK.

 

** a likely grower

Kasey Chambers - Barricades & Brickwalls (Virgin) An awful lot of people raved about her previous album "The Captain", but both the Captain (America) and I just didn't get it. We were hassled and plugged, but managed to avoid it altogether, though I had to play it once or twice when Ritz's then (Australian) MD put it on the Playlist. So it was with a sizable chunk of cynicism that I anticipated the new release from this young Antipodean lady. Nick told me he thought it was a lot better, and I must agree, even if I cannot get wildly excited. "On A Bad Day" is enhanced by the accompanying vocals of Lucinda Williams, as is "Runaway Train" by Buddy Miller. On the whole, the songs are better and I have a feeling this album will grow on me. Except for Gram Parsons' "Still Feeling Blue", they are all her originals, but never ask a cynic to review a song called "Am I Not Pretty Enough?"!!! Ho Hum! Out the UK on 29th April

**** recommended

Dan Bern - New American Language (Cooking Vinyl) Licensed from Messenger Records, his first outing for them since departing Sony, this set, his fifth, really kicks off with "Sweetness". The title song is perceptive and "Alaska Highway" is especially Dylan-esque, as is the 10 minutes of poetry in "Thanksgiving Day Parade". I'd guess that Steve Earle & Neil Young are also some of Dan's influences, and this album is packed with good tunes, clever lyrics, and some fine playing and vocals. Highly recommended. Out the UK on 13th May.

 

***deserves attention

Chris Knight - A Pretty Good Guy (Dualtone) It's taken Chris about four years or so, to follow-up his debut, the eponymous album, on MCA. At the time, it drew favourable reviews and some airplay on enlightened programmes. (I played "Framed" more than once on my 'Red Hot & Country' show). Now he's back in a similar groove, albeit somewhat more rootsier, and very much in what's now referred to as Americana. The title track catches the ear immediately, and it's one he co-wrote with Fred Eaglesmith, his collaborator on another here ("Blame Me") as well as one from his previous outing. Other reviewers have correctly highlighted Chris' similarity with Steve Earle and that ilk, and it is most apparent on "Oil Patch Town". That said, the epic "Down The River" is most Springsteen-esque. "Highway Junkie" is great, in fact as far as I am concerned, there is not one duff song here, and this album deserves attention, plus proper promotion and distribution in the UK. Out now in the USA, and available in the UK from importers.

various artists - Total Lee - The Songs Of Lee Hazlewood (City Slang) A long overdue tribute to the veteran artist and former music business mogul Lee Hazlewood. It features 15 contemporary artists including Pulp's Jarvis Cocker, The Webb Brothers, St Etienne, Evan Dando, Tindersticks, Kid Loco, and Lambchop, all of whom have recorded their favorite Hazlewood songs including "Come On Home To Me" and (my personal favourite) "Some Velvet Morning" (The Webb Brothers). Kurt Wagner's vocals on the opener "I'm Glad I Never" is right-on-the-money, and Evan Dando & Sabrina Brooke's duet on "Summer Wine" make me want to dig out all those old Nancy & Lee albums! This album marks the first successfully realized Hazlewood tribute album, following an aborted attempt in the early '90s. Onetime Screaming Trees drummer Mark Pickerel, who was involved in that failed project, has recorded the track "Sand" with underground legend Calvin Johnson for "Total Lee."Out in the UK on 3rd June.

Lee Hazlewood - For Every Solution There's A Problem (City Slang) From Lycos: This is a selection of Hazlewood's previously unreleased work recorded over the last 25 years with longtime collaborator and session musician Al Casey (formerly part of the infamous "Wrecking Crew" with drummer Hal Blaine and organist Leon Russell). Hazlewood won a legion of admirers for his work as a composer, writer, producer, and businessman, but is best known for writing songs for the likes of Nancy Sinatra ("These Boots Are Made for Walking") and Dean Martin ("Houston"). He is also widely credited for discovering guitarist Duane Eddy and nurturing his trademark "twang" guitar sound. After a diverse career during which he released some of the most unique country and pop songs of the '60s and '70s, Hazlewood, now 72, moved to Sweden and has since lived a life of relative obscurity. WM adds: Some of these songs evoke memories of his ethereal and atmospheric songs of yore. Ii really like "Your Thunder And Yoour Lightning", "Dolly Parton's Guitar" (highly amusing!), "Loving Me, Loving You", "Suddenly Tennessee" and the atmospheric "Strangers, Lovers, Friends" Watch out for a hidden 11th track on the end! Out in the UK on 3rd June..

 

*** not at all bad!

John Berry - All The Way To There (Ten 35) The man from Athens, Georgia has one of the sweetest tenor voices in Country music, and he made a huge impact in the UK with "Standing On The Edge of Goodbye", back in the mid-Nineties. Since then, some sporadic releases, with Capitol UK seeming to mix and match his American product. Now with Ark 21 in the States, this album is the first release on RMG's newest imprint, tied in closely with its Ritz 1035 radio station. The lead song "How Much Do You Love Me" (aka "All The Way To There") is typical of the songs we expect from talented writer Skip Ewing, and may resonate with romantics over here. Otherwise, Berry had a hand in writing 8 of the 10 remaining songs, including a couple on which he collaborated with Gary Burr, such as the stirring "Let's Find Out". All in all, it's a bit formulaic, but not at all bad. The more I play it on my radio show, the more it grows. . Out now in the UK.

 

*** getting requests!

Danni Leigh - Divide & Conquer (Audium) Her 1998 debut "29 Nights" was very popular in the UK, possibly more so than in the States. She was most surprised when I told her of that fact in an interview. Sadly her American label folded and she was left high and dry. She cut a follow up for Monument, "A Shot Of Whiskey And A Prayer", which they chose not to release, until demand from fans made them let it escape! Now signed to Audium, she's come up with another fine effort, this time produced by Dwight Yoakam's right-hand man, Pete Anderson. Indeed, she continues to resemble Dwight with the hat pulled down low over the eyes! There's 3 Jim Lauderdale songs here, including the US single "Sometimes". My fave, however is one that she co-wrote, called "Yesterday", and my listeners are now requesting it! . Out now in the UK, via Koch.

**** future Grammy!

Stephen Bruton - Spirit World (New West) I liked his previous albums, notably the 1998 "Nothing But The Truth", and I was very impressed by the man, when he was a guest on my "Red Hot & Country" radio show around the time of the release of Hal Ketchum's "Awaiting Redemption", which he produced. Here we now have an excellent collection of songs, delivered in fine style. The musicianship, the arrangements and the performance are all top drawer. Personally, I really like "Teach Me How To Stay", "Acre of Snakes", "Make That Call", and the title track. Sticking my neck out, I'd suggest: Grammys 2003!. Out now in the UK.

*** refreshingly retro!

David Ball - Amigo (Dualtone) Having not really fulfilled his potential with his Warners albums, ("Thinkin' Problem" and "Starlight Lounge") David has returned on Dualtone with this collection that has already spawned two hits. "Riding With Private Malone" was much requested on my Ritz 1035 radio shows around the turn of the year, and "She Always Talked About Mexico" also resonated with the listeners. The former was written by the album's producer, Wood Newton along with Thom Shepherd, and he collaborated with Ball on the latter. The rest of the album has a retro feel, (notably the "New Shiner Polka") and compared to the homogenised product currently emanating from Nashville, it is really quite refreshing.. Out now in the USA, and available in the UK from importers.

**** worth the wait!

Bonnie Raitt - Silver Lining (Capitol) It's been a four year wait, but she's back with her 16th album - a collection of twelve songs that are sublime. The album kicks off with "Fool's Game", full of the rhythms of the Deep South. My fave, on first hearing, is the soulful "I Can't Help You Now" written by the ace team of Tommy Sims, Gordon Kennedy and Wayne Kirkpatrick (Clapton's "Change The World", etc.), which is slated for the first single. They also came up with "Time Of Our Lives". There's been alot of excitement about her recording David Gray's "Silver Lining" as the title track and she collaorated with the ace bluesman Roy Rogers on "Gnawin' On It". On this collection, she's continued her investigation in African music with her cover of the Zimbabwean star Oliver Mtukudzi on his "Hear Me Lord". A great band support her, and it's a fine album. Out in the UK on 1st April.

 

**** go acquire!

Siobhan Maher Kennedy - Immigrant Flower (Gravity) Formerly with Liverpool's River City People, who enjoyed some hits, Siobhan has re-settled in Tennessee now that she's married to Steve Earle's partner in twangtrust, Ray Kennedy. This album, produced at the famous Room & Board in Nashville, had quite a gestation period as she got used to motherhood, but the result is excellent. "Better Word for Love" is a rare tender song from Al Anderson & Gary Nicholson (Al's songs usually ROCK!), and is sublime; it was previously cut by Al's NRBQ, Dave Edmunds and Lee Roy Parnell. She really hits the spot with Earle's driving "Promise You Anything" and she gives fresh impetus to Richard Thompson's "I Want To See the Bright Lights Tonight", and the set closes with a delicate reading of The Waterboys' "When You Go Away". This album gets the listener from its first play. A neat acquisition for Nick Stewart's Gravity label. Well done, Captain! Out on 25th March.

 

**** good stuff!

Toby Keith - Pull My Chain (Dreamworks) Since switching from Mercury, he's gone from strength to strength, culminating with the 2001 CMA Male Vocalist award. "How Do You Like Me Now" was a less-than-subtle dig at his former label, and now this new album is full of hits, like "I Wanna Talk About Me" "I'm Just Talkin' About Tonight" and the current Chart success "My List". "The Sha La La Song" is infectious and will sound great on the radio on those late summer evenings. The title track rocks, as does Dave Loggins' "Pick 'Em Up And Lay 'Em Down". Check out the bonus track "Gimme 6 Seconds" that Toby co-wrote with Bernie Taupin. Elton couldn't rock like this! Good Stuff. Out now in the UK.

 

***** a must have!

Johnny Cash: "The Man In Black - The Very Best of" (Columbia) Released in celebration of his 70th birthday, basically they are all here in this 40-track double CD. From the Sun days, "Hey Porter", "Cry, Cry, Cry", right through the Western hits like "Don't Take Your Guns To Town", plus Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe" and "Girl From The North Country", Carl Perkins' "Daddy Sang Bass", Shel Silverstein's "A Boy Named Sue" and Jimmy Webb's "Highwayman" (with Messrs. Jennings, Nelson & Kristofferson). A must-have addition to anybody's album collection. Out now in the U.K.

 

*** a good debut

Tift Merritt - Bramble Rose (Lost Highway) Tift was born in Texas, but was brought up in North Carolina. She's played with the same band ever since she began here career, and this debut for Lost Highway is packed with good songs, performed with some aplomb. No Depression wrote of her: "Her songs evoke the lower left corner of Dixie - the mythic, mystic, wide-open spaces of the Southwestern frontier and the hardheaded people who call it home… [her voice is] a malleable, drop-dead gorgeous voice that can be brassy like Patsy Cline or soft-spoken like Emmylou Harris." Personally, I can hear some Kelly Willis in there and a smattering of Suzy Bogguss, too. A very good debut. Tentatively scheduled for 4th June 2002..

** check it out

Andrew Dorff - Andrew Dorff (Lost Highway) He comes from good stock - his father is the producer/arranger Steve Dorff, and this singer-songwriter grew up in Los Angeles, but often travelled to Nashville with his old man, when work took them there. The opening track "Misbelieve" and "Easy Does It" are impressive on first listen; The album's closer "Ice Cream Headache" says that' s she's so cold, etc. Nice analogy! Tentatively scheduled for April 2002

  

*** just like Hank Sr.

Hank Williams III: " Lovesick, Broke & Driftin'" (Curb-UK) With all the song written by Hank 3, save for Springsteen's "Atlantic City", Shelton continues on the path in his Grandaddy's shadow. With all the vibe surrounding the "Timeless" collection of Hank Sr's songs, it is only right that this second album from the grandson should reach a wide audience. He sounds hardly like his old man, Bocephus, but what a throwback to the patriarch! "One Horse Town" could have been written in 1949 - sublime! If you've ever seen Hank 3 live, y'all know that he's his own man, and he should feel proud of this album.By the way, there's a hidden track at the end of the CD. Out now in the U.K.

 

**** seminal

Steve Earle - Guitar Town (MCA) His 1986 debut gets a timely reissue with a bonus track: a live recording of Springsteen's "State Trooper", which is appropriate as Steve writes in the 2001 liner notes how it was a Springsteen concert he saw in Tennessee that inspired him to write an album "about me and my life". I'll leave you to read the rest, as you surely will, when you buy this seminal recording. The title track, "Hillbilly Highway", et al - ah, great to have this collection back again! Out now in the U.K.

  

**** stunningly good

Eileen Rose - Long Shot Novena (Rough Trade) We enjoyed her "Shine Like It Does" debut album and the "Party Dress" EP, and played both extensively on the Captain America Show, so we awaited this new album with great anticipation. And we were not disappointed. We've played "Tom Waits Crooning" and the single "See How I Need You" recently, and we hope she can find the time to come in. She's probably the hardest working woman in the business, as she's constantly gigging. There's all sorts on this album: shuffles, blues, rock, roots, and all bound together with some style. Out now in the U.K.

 

**** most enjoyable

The Arlenes - Stuck On Love (Loose) Big Steve & Stephanie Arlene are hard-working, and this is their first full length CD. Based in North London's Gospel Oak, this is like a breath of fresh air in a kinda retro way (with CD packaging to match)! The songs are reminiscent of the best of what we could get on our radio in the late Seventies and Eighties, and there is no lack of chemistry in their harmonies. The combination of a South-London bloke and a gal born in Washington D.C., but raised in the American South plus additional musicinas Al Christie, Pat McGarvey and Paul Witt really works, and it is hard to believe that this was recorded in London. It 'tastes' of Texas! They've also got the top writer of this genre, Sylvie Simmons to add the liner notes, so it's all looking good for the Arlenes with this thoroughly enjoyable album. Out now in the U.K.

** worthy

Isaac Freeman with Mike Henderson and The Bluebloods - Beautiful Stars (Lost Highway) He gave a rousing performance of "Lonesome Valley" in the grave-digging scene in "O Brother, Where Art Thou" and in the "Down From The Montain" concert at the Ryman, he had them stomping with the Fairfield Four's "Po Lazarus". Not that he's stranger to their material - he's sung with them. Now, on this album, he's joined by the great Mike Henderson and we have ten traditional gospel songs plus one new one, "You Must Come In At The Bottom", written especially for him by Garrison Keilor. Most have his deep-baritone spoken introductions, but Henderson's band adds an extra dimension. Out in the U.K. on 15th April

 

 

**** a masterpiece

Willie Nelson: "The Great Divide" (Lost Highway) Willie regularly surprises us with albums that float between genres, yet maintain his charismatic approach. From the seminal "Red Headed Stranger", through the inspired "Across The Borderline", "Teatro", "Milk Cow Blues" and his recent 'family' album "Rainbow Connection". And now we have "The Great Divide" which is up there with the best, and includes some wonderful duets. He & Sheryl Crow débuted "Be There For You" at the 2001 CMA Awards; Country fans will enjoy his pairing with Lee Ann Womack on "Mendocino County Line", as well as his re-working of Mickey Newbury's "Just Dropped In". The album opens with "Maria (Shut Up And Kiss Me", his pairing with Matchbox 20's Rob Thomas and it's good. The mood and the feel of the whole album is sublime, and best summed up by the excellent title track and "This Face". He's joined by R&B giant Brian McKnight on "Don't Fade Away" and it works brilliantly. Likewise, "You Remain" with the diva Bonnie Raitt. "Recollection Phoenix" ranks among his finest lyrics, so I wonder why he chose to cover Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time", though his cover is an improvement on her original - his voice is better! Another Willie Nelson masterpiece. Out mid-February.

 

**** sheer brilliance

Lambchop: "Is A Woman" (City Slang) The much anticipated follow-up to the brilliant and acclaimed "Nixon", arrives with Kurt Wagner recognised as one of the most innovative and respected musicians and writers of our time. The album's engineer, Marky Nevers, has described it as "Brian Eno meets Ray Charles", and that is pretty accurate. There are touches of Curtis Mayfield in "The New Cobweb Summer" and others here, though the rhythms underscore the fact that Wagner is and has been a resident of Nashville for a long time. Wagner has described many themes contained in his lyrics here, though 'the richness of life' encapsulates the overall feel, within the ethereal sparse instrumentation. Sheer brilliance - absolute night time enjoyment. Out in the U.K on 18th Feb, with a 3-track bonus CD included in the first run.

 

*** most enjoyable

The Silver Jews: "Bright Flight" (Domino) Dave Berman, aka The Silver Jews, follows up his 1998 "American Water" with this album recorded in Nashville, and it is apparent that he's soaked up the local alt-country scene. It opens with "Slow Education" which opens with a biblical musing and evolves into full-on country rock, with Cassie Marrett sounding with him, like Emmylou did to Gram. I love his deadpan delivery throughout, not dissimilar to recent Chip Taylor recordings. We've played "Tennessee" on the Captain America show, and Ms. Marrett sings one of the verses and a chorus, and complements his yearning for the South. "Friday Night Fever" is an almost old fashioned country song, and does not extol the values of how a Jew is supposed to spend his Friday Night! Most enjoyable! Out soon in the U.K.

*** investigate

Jim O'Rourke: "Insignificance" (Domino) Having relocated to New York from Chicago, this latest from Jim O'Rourke starts off more like a rock album with heavy guitar, drums and brass on "All Downhill From Here!. However, don't be fooled. With Wilco's Jeff Tweedy on guitar and harmonica, this album mellows as the listener progresses through the seven songs. Yes, just seven, but the shortest, "Good Times" runs over 4 mins. To my ears, the title track sounds like it would be at home on a Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks collaboration, or even on an Association album, though not in the least retro. The Captain likes "Therefore I Am", which he played on the show, whilst I really go for "Memory Lane", with its changes in tempo. It deserves careful investigation. Out soon in the U.K.

 

*** good Americana

Papa M: "Whatever, Mortal" (Domino) Following on from the "Sings" EP, David Pajo continues in a rootsy vein. With Tara Jane O'Neil and Will Oldham, the album has an instrumentally-rich sound, and it opens with the sparse "Over Jordan" with some fine guitar and banjo. "Krusty" is am instrumental played over an old Simpsons episode, whilst "Roses In the Snow" is fast becoming a Captain America show favourite. "The Lass of Roch Royal" is arguably the best of the 13 tracks, with atmospheric music and effects. "Many Splendoured Thing" is a simply constructed love song, just about a million miles from the Four Aces similarly titled hit of 1955, though the sentiment is the same! I really love the instrumental closer "Northwest Passage", which sounds like it might have turned up on Dylan's Basement Tapes. Good Americana Out soon in the U.K.

 

**** another winner

Alan Jackson: "Drive" (Arista) The much-anticipated album contains the sought-after "Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)", which shot to No.1 following its debut on the 35th CMA Awards. Indeed, that performance is included as a bonus track, complete with Vince Gill's introduction. The rest of the album is typical Jackson-fare. He keeps the traditional-Country flag flying proudly. His songs are personal, like the title track about his daddy, and his voice complements the plaintive ballads and the shuffles like "Work In Progress". The obvious radio tracks are "That's Be Alright", "I Slipped And Fell In Love" and the duet with George Strait, "Designated Drinker". Producer Keith Stegall hit on this formula several albums ago, and this will be sure to keep Jackson still at the top of the tree. Another winner. Out now in the U.K.

 

**** superb - Everybody Salsa !

Raul Malo: "Today" (Om Town) The long-awaited solo project from the (former) front-man of The Mavericks does not disappoint. It carries on from "Trampoline" with a huge brass section , and those of us who were privileged to hear some of his new Spanish songs, which he performed on that solo tour, with Kim Richey, a couple of years back will appreciate "Ya Tu Veras", "No Me Preguntes Tanto" "De Ti Me Olvidare" and "Ocho Versos". It has another Orbison-esque dramatic ballad in "Let's Not Say Goodbye". The title track opens the album, and it is a STONKER! He's joined by the wonderful Shelby Lynne on "It Takes Two To Tango". Raul once told me his major influences include Engelbert Humperdinck, and that is most apparent on "I Said I Love You". It's full of Latino rhythms, and I've nearly worn out my advance copy. Forget line-dancing - everybody Salsa! USA:release: 23rd October 2001, and will shortly be released in the U.K. on Nick Stewart's Gravity label, with a bonus track: "Since When".

 

**** Terrific

Clint Black: "Greatest Hits II" (RCA) It was back in '96 that Clint released his "Greatest Hits" and it went Double Platinum. Now we have vol. 2, and it's jammed packed with some more of his very best, including "Been There", the collaboration with Steve Wariner and the sublime duet with his wife, Lisa Hartman-Black, "When I Said I Do". Added to that such goodies as "Nothin' But the Taillights", and "Still Holding On" (with Martina McBride), and you have a sure-fire winner. However, it gets better! There are four new songs, including another great duet with his missus: "Easy for Me To Say", which I've been playing on the radio, quite a bit. He's combined "Little Pearl" & "Lily's Lullaby" which celebrate the birth of Lily Pearl Black. Clint rocks on "Money or Love" and he revisits "Put Yourself In My Shoes" with a swing arrangement and vocal performance that will teach Robbie Williams a few lessons! Out now in the U.K.

 

*** really fine debut!

Carolyn Dawn Johnson: "Room With A View" (Arista) This lady, who hails from Alberta, Canada, first came to our attention as the writer of Chely Wright's first chart-topper "Single White Female". However, I was caught by Carolyn's debut release in the USA & Europe, "Georgia", which I played a lot on my radio shows. It made No.1 in Canada and it opens this album. Her other domestic No.1 "Complicated" is also included in this fine album of light & shade. She had a hand in the writing of all 13 tracks, including a couple of co-writes with Kim Carnes and Al Anderson. She co-produced it with the ace Paul Worley, and it's a really fine debut. Out now in the U.K.

 

**** nice stuff, Lyle!

Lyle Lovett: "Cowboy Man - Anthology Volume One" (Curb-MCA) This was planned to coincide with his UK tour, which failed to materialise. Nevertheless this look back over the his first three albums "Lyle Lovett" (1986), "Pontiac" (1987) and "And His Large Band" (1989) , together with two new songs are a welcome addition to anyone's CD collection. His eponymous album was very country, whilst "Pontiac" included songs like "If I Had A Boat" and "Give Me Back My Heart" which had Lyle carving out his distinctive style. The two included from his third album: "Which Way Does That Old Pony Run" and "If You Were To Wake Up" certainly reflect his love for traditional country music. The two new songs: "The Truck Song" is a cool Texas shuffle and "San Antonio Girl" is a good-time bit of Western Swing. Nice stuff, Lyle. Out now in the U.K.

 

*** check it out!

Blake Shelton: "Blake Shelton" (Giant) He hails from Oklahoma, and looks better without the cowboy hat, but what the heck! His debut single "Austin" (included here) spent 5 weeks at No.1 and the follow-up "All Over Me", co-written with the Eighties-star, Earl Thomas Conley, is stunning. There's just 10 tracks on this album, but there's no filler. It's produced by the legendary Bobby Braddock, and he's instilled much of Country music's traditions and emotions into this set, especially in his own song "Same Old Song". Make a note of the name: Blake Shelton. This guy has a future, and this album is well worth investigation. Out now in the U.K.

 

***** 5 stars! He's back on top form!

Garth Brooks: "Scarecrow" (Capitol) It's been a real long time since we had a new 'proper' GB album, and I didn't realise how much I'd missed him. From the powerful opening cut "Why Ain't I Running", he hits the ground , well .. running! "Beer Run", the duet with George Jones is also included here, and the first single is Wayne Kirkpatrick's "Wrapped Up In You". His good friend Trisha Yearwood again duets with him, this time on the rocker "Squeeze Me In" yet she provides subtle back-up on "The Storm", which is wonderful, and also on "Thicker Than Blood" and "Pushing Up Daises", which is in waltz-time. "Big Money" sounds like it might have been intended for one of his early albums, whilst "Rodeo or Mexico" goes like a train. Bela Fleck's banjo on "Don't Cross The River" is magical, and the album closes with the song from the movie 'Frequency' which I played quite a bit on the radio, "When You Come Back To Me Again". Welcome back, Garth - we've missed you like we never knew or like you'll never know! Out now in the U.K.

** disappointing

George Strait: "The Road Less Travelled" (MCA) Shock! Horror! A new George Strait album that doesn't include a Jim Lauderdale song - I just cannot believe it! Nonetheless, he and co-producer Tony Brown have delved into the songbooks of such greats as Rodney Crowell and Chip Taylor. Crowell's "Stars On The Water" from '81is given a bit of a vocoder treatment (á la Cher) - YUK, whilst Taylor's "The Real Thing" from '73 is, well, the REAL THING! The album closes with Merle Haggard's "My Life's Been Grand", and sounds terribly retro. Pushing the envelope this ain't. George's legion of fans will love it, but he won't make many new friends, this time. Disappointing. Out now in the U.K.

 

**** smashing !

Shelby Lynne: "Love, Shelby" (Island) Her seventh album, and the sixth won her the Grammy for Best New Artist! Bizarre or what? This time, understandably, she's followed on from "I Am" in similar vein, with producer Glen Ballard (Alanis Morisette, etc) at the helm. They've co-written six of the 10 songs on the album (What happened to "Break Me Open" , "Star Broker" and "Close To You"? The advance promo had 13 tracks!) Anyway, that gripe aside, this album is just sublime and it will satisfy pop, jazz and rock fans alike - and I guess many of her old country fans (like me) may dig it too! "Killin' Kind" was previewed on the 'Bridget Jones' soundtrack and is great; "Wall In Your Heart" is made for radio, "Ain't It The Truth" is great, and her interpretation of John Lennon's "Mother" is particularly poignant, given history of the Moorer family. A smashing album with artwork to match !!! Out now in the U.K.

*** inspired

The Court & Spark: "Bless You" (Glitterhouse) Nick & I dipped into their previous release "Ventura Whites", on the Captain America Radio show, not just to give us an excuse to play another Joni Mitchell song, but because we rated it! These country-rockers from San Francisco are building quite a reputation, and now with "Bless You", I was particularly stuck by "Rooster Mountain", "Fireworks" and "Pearly Gates" This album will do much to enhance their profile, globally. Released in the UK: 12th November

** worthy

Centro-Matic: "Distance and Clime" (Munich) Their previous album "All The Falsest Hearts Can Try" was one that we played quite a bit on the Captain America Radio show, and now we have their sixth. It kicks off with an epic of just 72 seconds, "The Connection's Not So Civilised", and there's many songs of the fifteen here to entice the listener. "Truth Flies Out" has some earthy feedback guitar that is reminiscent of something or other (it won't come to me!!), whilst my current fave is "On The Sagtikos". The album closes with a 6½ minute epic "Call Down the Systems and the Ranks". Takes some getting into, but worth the effort. Released in the UK: 19th November

*** enjoyable

The Gourds: "Shinebox" (Munich) Despite the fact that they are fine songwriters, The Gourds have included a few notable covers here, including a hillbilly rendition of Snoop Doggy Dogg's "Gin & Juice", and a version of Nils Lofgren's "Everybody's Missing The Sun" that might have emanated from Gram Parsons. Billy Joe Shaver's "Omaha" is given fine treatment, as is Townes Van Zandt's "Two Girls". Of the band's originals, I commend "Trampled By The Sun" and "Jones Oh Jones". A pretty good album and one to be enjoyed . Released in the UK: 12th November

**** welcome back !

Travis Tritt: "Down the Road I Go" (Columbia) Finally released in the UK (already platinum in the USA, where it was released in 2000), and this switch of label had brought Travis right back to the front of the queue. This album has already delivered three smash hit singles, Darrell Scott's "It's A Great Day to Be Alive", Travis' "The Best of Intentions" and Kevin Brandt's "Love of A Woman". Plenty of light and shade here, as Tritt can rock with the best of 'em, whilst his tender ballads can melt he coldest hearts. He's one great guy, and I'm delighted to see him back on top - welcome back, Travis! Out now in the U.K. Click here to go to my Travis Tritt page

**** super stuff

Reba McEntire: "I'm A Survivor - The Collection" (MCA) Yet another Reba compilation, though this time with three new songs, including the title track, which is NOT a cover of the great Barry Mann song, but the theme of her new American network TV show. "Myself Without You" is another new song from the Bob DiPiero / Victoria Shaw songbook, and is a winner! The album closes with the Diva's new reading of Kenny Rogers' tribute to Waylon Jennings "Sweet Music Man", on which she's joined by Alison Krauss, who also produced it. Minimally brilliant! Otherwise 12 of her best, including "Forever Love", "Why Haven't I Heard From You". Super stuff. Out now in the U.K.

**** deserves to be a best seller

various: "Timeless - Songs of Hank Williams" (Lost Highway) No that is not the front cover of the CD - it's so dark, I couldn't use it! Williams was an artist and writer that one just has to respect, because he was an innovator, and this compilation is commendable. It is fitting that it kicks off with Dylan shuffling beautifully through "I Can't Get You Off My Mind". Sheryl Crow's reading of "Long Gone Blues" is just great, whilst Beck's, Ryan Adams' and Keith Richards' contributions are dark yet compulsive. Contrasting is Hank III's version of "Long Gone Daddy" proving that he's his grandaddy' grandson!! More than honourable mentions go to the queens: Emmylou & Lucinda, plus Tom Petty, Mark Knopfler, Keb' Mo' and Johnny Cash. Deserves to be a best-seller. Out now in the U.K.

*** OK, I guess

George Jones: "The Rock" (BNA / Bandit) What can one say about a legend? To those who crave their 'stone-cold Country', this is for you. Personally, I've never been that keen on the ole Possum, but I can dig it! The duet with Garth Brooks, "Beer Run" will win over a few more fans. I was most struck by Al Anderson's "I Got Everything" and Billy Joe Shaver's "Tramp On Your Street". All in all, though, it's not really my cup-o-tea! Out now in the U.K.

**** great stuff

Chely Wright: "Never Love You Enough" (MCA) I was a fan of Chely's from her first album. I met her when she released her fourth and was smitten, and now here is No.5. It kicks off with the title track and first single - powerful ballad. Marcus Hummon's "Jezebel" is made for U.S. Country radio, and the album is just full of "woman" songs, not least "One Night In Las Vegas" - another duet with Brad Paisley that they wrote and produced together. They repeated the process on "Horoscope" and it's another winner. They certainly work well together. The album is full of light & shade, with some stand-out songs like Leslie Satcher's "Her" and it closes with Chely's own "Not As In Love". Great stuff ! Out now in the U.K.

**** enjoyable

Hal Ketchum: "Lucky Man" (Curb) I have long been a fan of Hal's, and he's one of my favourite interviewees. For this album, he has Rodney Crowell producing and The Houston Kid contributes two of his own songs: "Love Makes Me A Better Man" and "Dreams of Martina", which are both superb. The album opens with two Ketchum collaborations with long-time co-writer (Al Anderson - ex-NRBQ), "You're Everything" and "You Can't Go Back", and Steuart Smith, who we recently saw with The Eagles, plays lead on a storming version of Jesse Stone's "Don't Let Go". I love the duet with Dolly Parton "Two Of The Lucky Ones", and Hal rocks on "She's Still In Dallas". A most enjoyable album. Out now in the U.K. Click here to go to my Hal Ketchum page

**** brilliant

Ryan Adams: "Gold" (Lost Highway) Following quite closely on the back of "Heartbreaker" and the lost Whiskeytown "Pneumonia", this really is a fine collection. It opens with a track I'd played on the radio a couple of times (from an advance copy) - unfortunately the single release of "New York, New York" has been shelved for obvious reasons. Shame, 'cos it's a great song. Most of these songs he wrote himself, though he collaborated with producer Ethan Johns on the epic "Nobody Girl". Elton John has publicly credited Ryan with getting him to re-focus his music on what he does best, and this album underlines the quality of Adam's capabilities. Too many good songs - not enough space here! Out now in the U.K.

*** good stuff

Robert Earl Keen: "Gravitational Forces" (Lost Highway) REK's first outing on Lost Highway, it kicks of with a retro-country sounding "My Home Ain't In The Hall of Fame" written by Joe Dolce (surely, not he of 'Shaddap Your Face' infamy??). The rest of the album is made of his originals, and I really like "Wild Wind". He gives a repectful airing to Johnny Cash's "I Still Miss Someone" and Townes Van Zandt's "Snowin' On Raton" is handled tenderly. The title track is short, stark and dark and just spoken - very cool! The album closes with the 7min plus epic "The Road Goes On Forever" - produced by Ray Kennedy, and it COOKS! Good stuff, indeed. Out now in the U.K.

**** excellent

John Hiatt: "The Tiki Bar Is Open" (Sanctuary) This man is a genius, and this new album arrives hot on the heels of "Crossing Muddy Waters". It kicks off in style with "Everybody Went Low", and it's just full of good songs. I played "All The Lilacs In Ohio" on the Captain America Radio show, a couple of times, and it sounded great. "My Old Friend" is another winner. The album if full of 'light & shade' and is well constructed, with a real 'cry from the heart' in "I'll Never Get Over You". Track 9 is the title track, and has a kind-of 'New Orleans' feel about it - great! The closing cut "Farther Stars" runs to almost 9 minutes and puts the seal on an excellent album. Out now in the U.K.

*** enjoyable

various: "Are You Ready For The Country" (WSM) Released to accompany Peter Doggett's book, a tome that I have used to assist one or two radio shows, it is a super collection of some of my favourite American artists. Included are tracks from The Beau Brummels, Gram Parsons, Doug Sahm, Uncle Tupelo, Randy Newman, et al. The title track is indeed also the title track of my favourite Waylon Jennings album - his tilt at Neil Young's song. Of the 46 songs on this 2-cd set, there's a fair few Dylan compositions, plus a couple of Nesmith's (as performed by The Monkees). Getting the rights to make compilations like this can be a nightmare, so hats off to the guys at Warners.. Out now in the U.K.

 

***** 5 stars-stunning

Lee Roy Parnell: "Tell the Truth" (Vanguard) A really COOL new album from one great slide-guitarist. He was once one of Kinky Friedman's Texas Jewboys, so he's OK by me! It starts out with the 6-minute plus "Right Where It Hurts", but the real winner is a duet with the legendary Bonnie Bramlett "Breaking Down Slow", which Lee Roy co-wrote with Gary Nicholson and master-songsmith Dan Penn. Jim Horn's familiar horn-licks are just sublime. That same trio came up with the typically Penn-sounding "Guardian Angel" and also "Brand New Feeling" which he performs with The Mississippi Mass Choir of Jackson, Ms. Parnell teams up with Delbert McClinton and they rock on "South By Southwest". "Crossing Over" is another killer. The collection closes with Gretchen Peters' "Love's Been Rough On Me". A deserved FIVE STARS for one of the best albums of 2001.. Out now in the U.K.

**** excellent

Billy Bob Thornton: "Private Radio" (Lost Highway) Big-time movie-star makes alt.-County album - yeah, and he does it with some style. I've been living with an advance copy of his Lost Highway debut for some weeks, and I love it. "Angelina" - well, he's married to Angelina Jolie (daughter of Jon Voight, niece of Chip Taylor, is Lara Croft, etc etc). Plenty of atmosphere on "He Was A Friend of Mine" (about JFK), and I just adore "Forever" which has the best reference to Merle Haggard heard on ANY song ! It's produced by Marty Stuart, so it must be good! Released worldwide: 24th September.

**** a winner

Lucy Kaplansky: "Every Single Day" (Red House) Lucy just keeps getting better and better, and this, her fourth album, takes her onto a new plane. I was thrilled to have turned on the rest of my Ritz 1035 colleagues to "Ten Year Night" (it became a Ritz Album of the Month). Now, with eleven new songs of which seven are originals and covers of The Louvin Brothers, Steve Earle, Paul Brady and Julie Miller ("Broken Things"). I particularly enjoy "You're Still Standing There" and the opener "Written On The Back of His Hand", but each song is handled with great sensitivity, and she's helped out by the likes of Richard Shindell, John Gorka, Jennifer Kimball and Buddy Miller. Intelligent music for like-minded listeners. Released in the UK: 11th September.

**** good stuff

Martina McBride: "Greatest Hits" (RCA) I last met Martina in 1995, and she was just beginning to make the big breakthrough. Now she releases a Greatest Hits package with fourteen smashes and four new songs. Those big big hits include Gretchen Peters' subversive "My Baby Loves Me" and the seminal "Independence Day" (the 1995 CMA Song of the Year), as well as Beth Nielsen Chapman's "Happy Girl" and Matraca Berg's "Wild Angels". Add to that, the more recent successes like "Love's the Only House" and "I Love You", and this is a must! Of the new songs, "When God Fearin' Women Get the Blues" is in the same vein as "Independence Day and "Broken Wing". "Where Would You Be", "Concrete Angel" and "Blessed" are the others and are all very good. Released in the UK: 1st October. Click here to go to my Martina McBride page

**** quality

Alison Krauss & Union Station: "New Favorite" (Rounder) I'm a bit late reviewing this album - it's already been a No.1 Country album in the UK, whatever that might mean! She's included two ("Let Me Touch You Awhile" and "Lucky One")from the pen of Robert Lee Castleman, an artist that she discovered. They are both excellent vehicles for her, as is Mark Simos' "Crazy Faith". This, however, is a band album, just like their concerts, so we get Dan Tyminski talking a few lead vocals, which will appeal to the folks who bought the "O Brother Where Art Thou" soundtrack, whilst Ron Block is to the fore on his composition "It All Comes Down To You". A quality album. Out now.

*** worth getting

Gary Allan: "Alright Guy" (MCA) This guy is good. His last album, "Smoke Rings In the Dark" was much underrated, and this time around he'll be in the UK to promote this one. The title cut is a great cover of one of Todd Snider's best songs, and I played Todd's original on the radio, quite recently. Add to that, fine songs by Jamie O'Hara ("Man To Man") , Jim Lauderdale ("What's On My Mind"), which Jim included on his recent "The Other Sessions" and Roger Brown's haunting "Adobe Walls" - you have a fine package. The album closes with Bruce Robison's tribute to Willie Nelson "What Would Willie Do" - plus there's a bonus track - the best from the previous album: a storming version of Del Shannon's "Runaway" Released in the UK: 10th September.

**** brilliant

Earl Scruggs and Friends: (MCA Nashville) At last, we have the long-awaited collaboration of the 77-year old master of the five string banjo, and a cross section of some of the finest artists around today. The set kicks off with Earl and Elton John reviving "Country Comfort" from (my favourite Elton album) "Tumbleweed Connection". Billy Bob Thornton joins the man on Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire", whilst the Man In Black and Don Henley join him on "Passin' Thru". The album's producer, his son, Randy Scruggs is among a host of great pickers (inc. Vince Gill, Marty Stuart and Albert Lee) who help re-work Earl's biggest hit "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" (the theme to 'Bonnie & Clyde'). Other top names found here include Melissa Etheridge, Dwight Yoakam, Sting, John Fogerty, Travis Tritt and Rosanne Cash. Irresistable stuff! Released in the UK: 27th August.

*** very good

Chip Taylor: "Black & Blue America" (Train Wreck) A new Chip Taylor ought to anticipated like a new Dylan album. His songs have been covered since the Sixties, notably by The Troggs & Hendrix ("Wild Thing"), the Hollies ("I Can't Let Go"), P.P. Arnold, Merilee Rush, Juice Newton and Shaggy ("Angel of The Morning"), and this new collection is up there with them. Pat Arnold joins him to duet on the closing track "Temptation", whist he get to duet with John Prine on "The Way Of It", and with Lucinda Williams on both "The Ship" and the superb "Could I Live With This". Otherwise, he delivers his crafted songs with great tenderness. OUT now in the UK. Click here to go to my Chip Taylor page.

*** good stuff

BR 549: "This Is BR 549" (Lucky Dog) They should feel more at home on Sony's Lucky Dog imprint, and little has changed, save for the dropping of the hyphen in their name. They still perpetuate that 'good-time' music, and this collection is very well balanced. Five of the eleven songs were written by with Gary Bennett or Chuck Mead, with Chuck's delightfully-retro "Fool of the Century" particularly outstanding. Of the covers, they've included some Nick Lowe, Harlan Howard, plus a storming version of the Everly's "Price of Love". Good Stuff. OUT now in the UK. Click here to go to my BR 549 page.

**** a landmark CD

Patty Loveless: "Mountain Soul" (Epic) For far too long, Bluegrass has been considered a male remit, yet following the great success of Dolly Parton's two most recent albums, this Patty Loveless effort is another breath of fresh air. Ricky Skaggs lends assistance on mandolin and vocals on Ralph Stanley's "Daniel Prayed", whilst her duet with Jon Randall on Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton's "Someone I Used To Know" is 'just how it used to be'. Her two duets with Travis Tritt are outstanding (whoever would have thought of Travis doing Bluegrass? Not me!). She does a great reading of Darrell Scott's epic "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive", which he first introduced on his 1997 "Aloha From Nashville". A landmark album. OUT now in the UK.

*** worth checking

K.T. Oslin: "Live Close By, Visit Often" (BNA) She may have been an "80s Lady", but now in the 21st Century, she's BACK with an album co-produced with ace-Maverick Raul Malo. The killer title track opens the set, with horn lines reminiscent of the Mav's "Dance the Night Away", and she wrote it with Raul and Kostas. She and Raul collaborated with Al Anderson on the tender "I Can't Remember Not Loving You" and together with her "Mexico Road" and "Neva Sawyer", I would have sworn that this album was recorded in Memphis! Then it changes with the last four tracks - standards like "Mean To Me", "What Is This Thing Called Love" and Rosemary Clooney's "Come On-A My House". Country it ain't. Classy it is ! OUT now in the UK.

*** very good

Various Artists: "Down From The Mountain" (Lost Highway) A live recording made at the Ryman in Nashville, from a documentary film by D.A. Pennebaker, this features artists and musicians from the hugely successful soundtrack to "O Brother Where Art Thou". Featuring Alison Krauss & Union Station, the late John Hartford, Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings, Dan Tyminski, The Cox Family, Emmylou Harris, The Fairfield Four and more, this is quite simply a joy. Even if you haven't seen the movie, nor gotten the original soundtrack album, you will thoroughly enjoy this. Go enjoy! Released in the UK: 30th July.

**** inspirational !

 Nanci Griffith: "Clock Without Hands" (Elektra) There's been no shortage of new albums from Ms. Griffith these past years, but this is the first of NEW songs since 1997. Her own compositions are absolutely top-drawer, and her choice of covers are inspired, notably two of my favourite John Stewart songs: "Lost Her (Him) In The Sun" (from his "Bombs Away Dream Babies") and "Armstrong" (from "Cannons In The Rain"). Paul Carrack's "Where Would I Be" is already proving to be a hit in the USA. Co-produced with Ray Kennedy, many of her songs reflect her work with Vietnam Veterans and the Campaign For A Landmine Free World. "Last Song For Mother" is for Nanci's own mother, who has been very ill, and the album closes with her interpretation of Sinatra's "In The Wee Small Hours" (a lush Peter Collins production) - her mother's favourite song. Released worldwide: 30th July

**** great stuff !

 Jim Lauderdale: "The Other Sessions" (Dualtone) A new label for Jim, and this album is one that will be welcomed by his legions of fans, including George Strait, I am sure! George has long been a customer for Jim's songs, and there's a few here that might well, nay, ought to show up on future Strait albums. Jim really should be a major star, if only American Country Radio would play proper Country. He's currently touring the USA with Lucinda Williams, and it was with Lucinda that we last saw him perform in the UK, a couple of years back. Jim is also set to play George Jones in the stage show "Stand By Your Man" at the Ryman in Sept/Oct. This album has had some deservedly good reviews in the States. Check out http://www.jimlauderdale.com/reviews.htm OUT NOW in the USA, no plans yet for a UK release. Try good import stockists.

*** pretty good !

 Lonestar: "I'm Already There" (BNA) It's now Album #4, and it kicks off with the powerful "Out Go The Lights", one of two Richie McDonald co-writes, here. The other is the title track, and this collaboration with Gary Baker & Frank Myers is very much in the vein of their mega-smash "I Swear". It cannot be denied that this album has some very strong material. "I Want To Be the One" would not sound out of place on an Eagles album; "Softly" (one of two Annie Roboff songs here) could well turn out to be another "Amazed". Annie's other contribution is the positive "Let's Bring It Back". Perhaps, not a strong as "Lonely Grill", but good enough to consolidate this excellent band. OUT now in the UK. Click here to go to my Lonestar page.

***** 5 Stars !

 Trisha Yearwood: "Inside Out" (MCA Nashville) In just ten years, she has risen from obscurity to arguably the finest technical female vocalist in popular music (my assessment). This latest album kicks off with the powerful "Love Alone", on which she is joined by Andrew Gold on backing. "I Would've Loved You Anyway" is a real winner, and Kim Richey does the back-up honours on this, and a couple of others, including "For A While", which is another dip into the Matraca Berg songbook, and is as strong as ever. Rosanne Cash's "Seven Year Ache" gets a 21st Century re-working. The title track, written by Gretchen Peters & Bryan Adams, is another duet with Don Henley, who of course collaborated with Trisha on "Walkaway Joe", years ago. Trisha Yearwood just gets better and better. A must-have album OUT now in the UK. Click here to go to my Trisha Yearwood page.

*** good stuff !

Jamie O'Neal: "Shiver" (Mercury) One of the infectious hits of 2000 was Jamie's "There Is No Arizona", and it is included here - this album was released in the USA some months back. She co-wrote nine of the 13 tracks here, including her debut hit and this Australian-born, American-based artist makes quite an impact with this package. "No More Protecting My Heart" is a feisty/catchy song written by the marvellous Annie Roboff; and the title track displays a considerable degree of sophistication in the writing and the delivery. Mercury label-mate Mark Wills joins Jamie on the duet "I'm Not Gonna Do Anything Without You", and it works well, and has "Hit" written all over it. All this is a pretty good effort for a young lady who spent two years on the road as Kylie Minogue's backing vocalist. OUT 2nd July in the UK.

**** excellent

 Pernice Brothers: "The World Won't End" (Southpaw) "Overcome By Happiness" was a bit of a late discovery for me, it came out in 1998. However, this long-awaited follow-up is on another plane - if that isn't an insensitive term. The album's title comes from an unfortunate mid-air experience that most of us have encountered at some time or another, over the Atlantic. Joe Pernice's songs are the kind of 'pop' that appeal to all generations, with strong memorable melodies and lyrics that hit-the-spot. The playing and the arrangements are reminiscent of Jimmy Webb / Brian Wilson / Jeff Lynne / Paul McCartney - this album deserves to a become one of the albums of the year. Star Rating re-assessed 24/6/01.OUT in the UK on 11th June.

 

***** Go Buy !

Lucinda Williams: "Essence" (Lost Highway) Many said that Lucinda had a hard act to follow, given that her 1998 masterpiece "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road" won her a well deserved Grammy. One or two other reviewers have stated this is not up to its predecessor's standard. I disagree. Since first listening to "Essence", I have been enthralled by its stark, dark images. As you'd expect, Lucinda's melodies grab the listener as strongly as ever, and lyrically, she leaves herself fully exposed. She's joined on a number of tracks by the redoubtable Jim Lauderdale, and on the wonderful 'Bus To Baton Rouge' the talented Joy Lynn White adds to their harmonies. They also rock and shuffle with her on 'Get Right With God', whilst Ms. White accompanies Lucinda on the album's closer 'Broken Butterflies' - a great song. Special mention of the title track, on which Gary Louris of the Jayhawks, illuminates the chorus. OUT NOW in the UK.

*** worth checking !

 Whiskeytown: "Pneumonia" (Lost Highway) The long lost and long-awaited thirs album form the band that is no more. After one or two bootleg versions got out, Ryan Adams teamed up with producer Ethan Johns (son of the legendary producer Glyn) to remix and pare down what might have been a double-album. So we end up with 14 tracks (plus the hidden 'To Be Evil', which is VERY good), and I have to say that I find this more accessible that Ryan' s solo debut "Heartbreaker". Perhaps he benefits from his fellow-Whiskeytowners, not to mention the addition of guests like James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins) and Tommy Stinson (Guns 'N' Roses). Don't get me wrong - the rough edges are still there, and that's what makes this such a fine farewell to a much-underrated band. OUT NOW in the UK.

 

***** 5 Stars !

 Mary Chapin Carpenter: "Time*Sex*Love" (Columbia) The new Chapin album contains 14 sensitive songs. She defines the album as: Time is the great gift, Sex is the great equaliser, and Love is the great mystery. She can do little wrong in my eyes, and this collection has been well worth the wait. She shares the writing credits on 3 songs with the notable Gary Burr, including the opener "Whenever You're Ready". The ethereal "Swept Away" is a song she wrote with Kim Richey. My favourite on the album is another Burr co-write "Maybe World"- a Sixties-sounding paean with lots of "Ba-ba-bas" a la The Turtles, Flowerpot Men, et al. Another winner is "This Is me Leaving You", the one she wrote with long-time sideman and co-producer John Jennings. "The Long Way Home" is another top song, Heck the album is great !! OUT NOW in the UK. Click here to go to my Mary Chapin Carpenter page.

**** Sublime !

Brad Paisley: "Part II" (Arista) Brad's sophomore album is a real sequel to his stupendously successful "Who Needs Pictures", even through to the fade-in fiddles at the start which segue with the outro of 'In The Garden", which closes his first album. There is nothing in this album that will prevent the widely-held belief that Mr. Paisley is the next BIG THING in Country Music - and a true successor to Garth Brooks. He says that this second album was in the planning even before he had a record deal, so there's no doubting his determination. He's gathered a fine selection of songs, most of which he had a hand in writing, and producer Frank Rogers mixes the light and shade beautifully. He's a great talent and deserves to go all the way. OUT NOW in the UK. Click here to go to my Brad Paisley page.

 

***** 5 Stars !

Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers: "Anthology - Throough The Years" (MCA-UTV) Two CDs crammed full of some of the best Rock & Roll of the past 25 years ! Thirty Three of his most stellar moments, including the duet with Stevie Nicks 'Stop Draggin' My Heart Around', plus the brand new 'Surrender', this is the present you always promised yourself. I just give thanks to the late Roger Scott for introducing me to 'Breakdown', 'American Girl', 'Refugee' and so many more that are included here, and it was to Roger's Memorial gathering at Abbey Road that Tom sent a fax asking to where he should now send the tapes. Whilst you're listening to this double-set, fully cranked, just think of the idiot who nudged Tom Petty out of the way in the lobby of Memphis' Peabody Hotel, so he could get a good photograph of the marching ducks ! I was that idiot !!! OUT IMMENENTLY in the UK.

***** 5 more Stars !

 Emmylou Harris: "Anthology: The Warner-Reprise Years" (Rhino) What can one say? She's an icon, and has achieved that status over a 30-year career spawning over 20 albums, most of which are represented in this anthology. I first saw her at her UK debut, when she released "Pieces of the Sky", and have never fallen out of love with her. This 2-CD set contains 44 tracks, including her 23 Top Ten Country singles (six of which made it to No.1), plus a number of rarities and B sides which have never made it onto CD before. We all have our Emmylou favourites, and I cannot think of any of mine that are not included here. No fan of Emmylou Harris can afford not to own this album, completist or not! And in case you've just arrived from Mars, head on down to your local record store .... OUT NOW in the UK.

*** Only 3 Stars, Tim

 Tim McGraw: "Set This Circus Down" (Curb/London) The new album from the guy who just cannot go wrong. Another strong set of songs, though personally, I don't think that any are especially earth-shattering. I'm a sucker for an Annie Roboff song, and "Unbroken" is one of the stand-out tracks, as is Mark Collie's "Forget About Us". I've long admired the writing of Bruce Robison and "Angry All The Time", on which Tim is joined by the missus Faith Hill, also hits the spot. Good effort, but must try harder ... OUT NOW in the UK.

 

** Only 2 Stars

 LeAnn Rimes: "I Need You" (Curb/London) This is LeAnn's first real 'Pop' album (as opposed to her previous 'Country' releases), and it's a bit of a mish-mash, with songs culled from various sessions and sources. Sure enough, it contains her No. 1 "Can't Fight the Moonlight" - that predictable/formulaic Diane Warren composition, from the 'Coyote Ugly' soundtrack. Indeed, Ms. Warren provides two more songs here, the power-ballad "Soon" and another from that movie "But I Do Love You". Also included is the duet with Elton John "Written In The Stars" which he wrote with Tim Rice for the soundtrack to 'Aida'. The rest is filler, with "Love Must Be Telling Me Something" which would have been at home on one of her Country albums, and a real Country-waltz, complete with fiddles, "Together Forever Always", one that she co-wrote. As they say, You can take the girl out of the Country, but ....!! OUT NOW in the UK. Click here to go to my LeAnn Rimes page.

**** Just superb !

 Ronney Crowell: " The Houston Kid" (Sugar Hill) Well I waited to review this until after I had seen his show at Dingwalls, in London's Camden Lock, on 23rd May, and I am ever so glad. Sure, I thought the album was a winner as soon as I first heard it, but having the advantage of having him set up each song, in a live context, only adds to the enjoyment of the album. He painstakingly told stories of his poor childhood in East Houston...of the heat and the humidity, as depicted in "Telephone Road" and of his hero-worship of Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee, and Johnny Cash. He never explained whether he ever imagined that The Man In Black might, one day, become his father-in-law and his friend! The touching tale of one of the twin sons of his mom's friend in "I Wish It Would Rain" tugs the heartstrings. His rewriting and re-working of Cash's "I Walk The Line (Revisited)" is a winner, as is the entire self-financed album. He has a way with lyrics and is a true American poet. OUT NOW in the UK.

***** 5 more Stars !

Timothy B. Schmit: "Feed The Fire" (Giant) OK. I'm biased, and I've lived with an advance copy of this album for several weeks. The man with the sweetest alto-tenor returns with an outstanding solo album, and it's been a long wait since "Playin' It Cool", "Timothy B" and "Tell Me The Truth", though he's probably better known for his time with Poco, and then The Eagles, with whom he'll be back in the UK through June & July. This album is a Five-Star winner, and no Eagles fan can fail to add this to the collection. Standout tracks? All, really, but I must draw your attention to "Every Song Is You", "The Shadow" "I'll Always Let You In", and the brilliant àcapella "Top of the Stairs". RELEASED IN UK: 7th May 2001

*** Check it !

 The Good Sons: "Happiness" (Floating World) The Good Sons have been described as 'Britain's Alternative Country Pioneers', and this is their fifth album, and to my ears, is hardly 'country' at all (alt. or mainstream). That is not to decry it, for it is most enjoyable. Michael Weston King's songs are well-crafted, sensitive and tuneful, and the influence of Elvis Costello is apparent throughout. I was particularly struck by "Tim Hardin '65" - a paean to a mutual hero. "Reason To Live" is also well worth a listen - indeed, the album is should be thoroughly investigated. OUT NOW in the UK.

**** I love it !!!

Pam Tillis: "Thunder & Roses" (Arista) Pam's latest offering has been a long time coming. It contains 11 new songs, plus a bonus-duet with Dad Mel, and the 1994 CMA Female Vocalist of the Year demonstrates a real sense of maturity with this recording. It kicks off with a 'killer' called "Jagged Hearts", a song very much in the vein of her epic "Maybe It Was Memphis". Pam is joined by Vince Gill on "It Isn't Just Raining", whilst the contemporary-sounding "Please" is the first single, and already a hit in the USA. The Tina Arena song "If I Didn't Love You" is an absolute classic; I reckon there are a few more hit singles on this album. It's been well worth the wait. WAS RELEASED IN UK: 2nd April 2001

*** Worth having

The Mavericks: "O What A Thrill - An Introduction" (MCA) For those who only discovered The Mavs with the hit "Dance The Night Away" and then bought the "Trampoline" album, this mid-price retrospective is a 'must'. Those of us who first saw them WAY back at the Shepherds Bush Empire will be familiar with all of the material gathered here, yet this is possibly the first opportunity to purchase this (re-recorded) version of "I Don't Care If You Love Me Anymore" - unless you have the US single, or the Canadian "It's Now.." import, or the soundtrack to Travolta's "Michael". In any event, this is work having, if only for Mark Hagen's liner notes! OUT NOW in the UK.

*** Very enjoyable

 Shawn Colvin: "Whole New You" (Columbia) Eleven new songs from Ms. Colvin, ten co-written with John Leventhal, who collaborated on her double Grammy-winning "Sunny Came Home", plus "Roger Wilco", which they wrote with Edie Brickell. The title track is one of those songs that is probably TOO good to be a hit in the UK, but is one I'll certainly be listening out for when she opens for Mary Chapin Carpenter, on the upcoming tour. It is a well-rounded album with really good collection of songs, brilliantly crafted and arranged. "One Small Year" is already a favourite, as is the closing track - the 'Joni Mitchell-esque' "I'll say I'm Sorry Now". OUT NOW in the UK.

** 2 stars ( just )

Lorrie Morgan & Sammy Kershaw: "I Finally Found Someone" (RCA) It might seem a bit cruel to say that Lorrie has been around a bit, but here she is recording an album including 6 duets with the latest man in her life. Not that she hasn't recorded with Sammy before (in '94 for her "War Paint" album, and in '99: "Maybe Not Tonight"). This kicks off with the title track, co-written by Barbra Streisand, Marvin Hamlisch, Bryan Adams & Mutt Lange, and first recorded by La Streisand - this version works well. "He Drinks Tequila" has already become a radio hit in the States, and "3 Seconds" also sounds like a single to me. Otherwise, I'm sure both sets of fans will enjoy the album, but will it make any new ones? I doubt it. WAS RELEASED IN UK: 17th April 2001

*** I'm a fan !

Jim Lauderdale: "Point of No Return" (Westside) Jim Lauderdale is one of music's unsung heroes, and hats off to Tony Rounce at Westside for acquiring and releasing what was to have been Jim's 1989 debut album. Duncan Warwick's liner notes give the whole story, but suffice to say that Epic held it back after the two initial singles failed to get sufficient airplay on Country radio. "Say Out of My Arms" and "Lucky 13" are both included, and the former song later was recorded by George Strait for his 1993 "Easy Come Easy Go" album. Indeed George has had hits with many of Jim's songs, as have Mark Chesnutt, Patty Loveless, The Dixie Chicks, and plenty more. As enjoyable as latter efforts like "Planet of Love", "Persimmons", "Whisper" and "Onward Through It All". OUT NOW in the UK.

 **** Dare you to buy

 Brooks & Dunn: "Steers and Stripes" (Arista) Their 7th album kicks off with the storming "Only In America" (NOT the Lieber & Stoller song) and continues with some other crackers, such as David Lee Murphy's "The Last Thing I Do" and Kim Richey's "Every River" on which she and Trisha Yearwood help the guys by singing back-ups. (Kim's original can be found as the opening cut on her underrated "Bittersweet" album). The light-&-shade comes courtesy of the Paul Brady & Ronan Keating song "The Long Goodbye" and the Terry McBride / Shawn Camp collaboration "Go To Heaven". Otherwise, it rocks, especially the recent hit "Ain't Nothing 'Bout You". Definitely up to Kix & Ronnie's high standards. WAS RELEASED IN UK: 17th April 2001.

 

**** Really good!

 Clay Walker: "Say No More" (Giant) It seems like yesterday that young Clay Walker burst onto the new-Country scene with the hit "Dreaming With My Eyes Open" from his eponymous debut album. In fact it was in 1993, and when I saw him two years later, perform at the Summer-Lights Festival, in Nashville there were hordes of shrieking teeny-boppers almost drowning out their hero. Now, five albums later (plus a Greatest Hits), understandably, he shows a great level of maturity. Nowadays, finding himself competing with the likes of Brad Paisley and Kenny Chesney, he should worry little. This collection has another brilliant Richie 'Lonestar' McDonald song "Real", a cracking re-working of Richie Valens' "La Bamba", and following on from his contribution to Asleep At The Wheel's "Ride With Bob", he's created "Texas Swing", which is the real deal! OUT NOW in the USA, no plans yet for a UK release. Try good import stockists.

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