Howdy, neighbors! Here are my reviews of new country, bluegrass and Americana records, from 'way back in 2001. These reviews have also been added to my genre-specific hick music guide, which includes dozens of artist profiles, and other, older record reviews. If you find this review archive useful, you're strongly urged to also check out the rest of the hick music section.
The Ignitors "Speedway Sounds" (Hayden's Ferry, 2001)
Mellow country rock, with more than a slight nod towards Running On Empty -era Jackson Browne... I was initially resistant to this album, but it grew on me. There are plenty of catchy tunes, full of chiming, melodic guitars and laid-back vocals... The delivery may be a little too languid, but this is certainly worth checking out if you want something listenable and unchallenging. One wonders, though, if there will be any WTC-related backlash to the song, "Cropduster," one of the album's highlights, along with the David Lindley-ish "Rae-Ann."
George Jones "The Rock" (BMG/BNA, 2001)
Ol' George has adapted pretty well to the "young country" style, so much so that this slick new album is a little less striking than his last few albums, although it's still a lot of fun. One highlight is the Vietnam War tribute, "50,000 Names," which for George is an unusual dip into political material. There are some good weepers, too, but the uptempo material is generally the strongest stuff on here. The hit single, "Beer Run," a duet with Garth Brooks did surprisingly well on the Nashville charts... (yay, George!)... and put ol' Possum back in the public eye. Though a little on the slick side, this disc is well worth checking out, particularly if you're a Jones fan to begin with.
Toby Keith "Pull My Chain" (Dreamworks, 2001)
(Produced by James Stroud & Toby Keith)
Filling the unrepentant tough-guy, total stud, good old boy niche that apparently must be filled in these days of touchie-feelie, chick-sensitive Nashville power ballads, Toby Keith plays the part of the sleazy but self-assured 'real man' that gals at bars just can't resist. Whatever. There are lots and lots of rock-tinged electric guitars and soul-derived organ licks that signal Keith's not-just-country leanings. The album opens with his strident ode to the one night stand -- the gal lucky enough to land this buckin' bronc of a man is subsequently treated to the cartoonish narcissism of "I Wanna Talk About Me," which is perhaps the most obnoxious testosterone-soaked tune of the decade. It also happened to be the album's huge Top Ten hit, which is a sad comment on the state of pop radio. I know, I know -- his swaggering sexism is partly tounge-in-cheek, but it's still not that interesting.
Bill Kirchen "Tied To The Wheel" (HighTone, 2001)
Another great record! When he sings of the lure of the highway on songs like "Roll Truck Roll," and "Hillbilly Truck Drivin' Man," you can tell Kirchen knows what he's talking about. His band is also one of the tightest, most versatile outfits in the alt.country scene today, and this is one of their best albums in years. The trucking theme continues on the title track and on the humorously post-apocalyptic "Truck Stop At The End Of The World"... My favorite track may be his perky cover of Merle Haggard's "Prison Band," where a jailbreak is thwarted by a talent show audition. With three decades worth of touring and recording under his belt, Kirchen shows no sign of slowing down or losing his sense of adventure, which is good news for country fans in every town on the Interstate. Check this one out!
Tracy Lawrence "Tracy Lawrence" (Warner/Atlantic, 2001)
(Produced by Flip Anderson & Tracy Lawrence)
A Music City dude who sticks pretty closely to a hard country vibe -- which is to say, a Nashviller whose whole album I can listen to without having my blood pressure rise too high. He's poppy and calculated, but Lawrence mainly follows in the traditionalist path laid down by John Anderson and Randy Travis. He also traffics in the broadest, most archetypal knee-jerk sentiments -- small town memories, good hearted women who save ne'er-do-well boyfriends, outlaw wanderlust, etc. The most shameless song on here -- and I mean that as a compliment -- is "What A Memory," in which Mama's dying wish is that her boy should get a guitar, so he can follow his dreams as a musician... well, you see where this is headed... Still, slick as he is, Tracy Lawrence is a pretty listenable Top 40 artist... Worth checking out.
Patty Loveless "Mountain Soul" (Sony/Epic, 2001)
(Produced by Emory Gordy, Jr.)
An outstanding acoustic neotraditional album! Loveless is one of those folks inside Nashville's orbit who has always had just enough of an untamed edge to signal her enduring rural roots. Here, she lets her rough side drag, travelling the same backwoods path that Dolly Parton recently wandered, much to the delight of listeners who love old-style country and stringband music. Along on the ride are other neotrad types such as Alan O'Bryant, Ricky Skaggs and Emmylou's old pal, Emory Gordy, Jr., who helped produce the album. Several things stand out here: to start with, the material is all excellent, top-notch stuff, including bluegrass oldies by Don Reno and Ralph Stanley, as well as honkytonk songs like the old George Jones hit, "Just Someone I Used To Know" and a fine new-ish tune by Melba Montgomery. The music is also quite nice -- these are some of Loveless' most moving performances, perfectly framed by an understated, heartfelt band. Believe the hype on this one -- it's highly recommended!
Shelby Lynne "Love, Shelby" (Island, 2001)
When she broke out of the lower rungs of Nashville studio hell with a soul-drenched album that harkened back to Dusty Springfield's Memphis days... now THAT was cool. But here, Lynne seems to be living up to all those catty comments about how she just sounds like Sheryl Crowe's kid sister. 1999's I Am Shelby Lynne was a brilliant, sultry, humid blend of Southern soul and back-porch country twang -- a truly inspired album. By contrast, this new disc has the feel of another record where the studio boys are back in control, producing densely crafted, picture-perfect pop. She croons, it's true, and there's some interesting bluesiness amid the rock guitars, but this is a rather derivative album. The nadir comes on "Jesus On A Greyhound," an outright embarassing swipe of Joan Osborne's "One Of Us" (...didn't that song start out on a bus, too...?) that somebody should have had the presence of mind to leave off the record. This will probably make some of her new fans happy, but will disappoint those of us looking for another innovative masterpiece.
Kimberly M'Carver "Cross The Danger Line" (Prime CD, 2001)
The vocal (and stylistic) similarity to Dolly Parton is the very first thing you'll notice with this Houston gal... Debts to Nanci Griffith and Rosie Flores also seem likely. At any rate, even though her material is patently derivative, she has her moments. Tunes such as "Death and Texas" and "When I Hear Trains" may point to future greatness... who knows?
Delbert McClinton "Nothing Personal" (New West, 2001)
Delbert McClinton may be getting a little long in the tooth, but certainly is not diminished by age... This is a solid, flawlessly produced album, with serious soul roots that measure up to almost anything McClinton recorded back in the '70s... This album also has a prescient, pessimistic air about it, full of tales of hard-luck 'n' hard times that are bound to take on even greater resonance as we settle deeper into the Bush-Cheney recession years. It's the same old roughneck romance that Delbert has been singing about for years now, about jes' plain folks who'll settle for getting laid, even if they can't get a break. Delbert hits the mark once again as the global pendulum swings back towards the blues. Mostly, though, what you'll notice is the music -- this is a pretty sharp set, and this disc is definitely recommended!
Del McCoury "Del And The Boys" (Skaggs Family, 2001)
Flat-out, one of the best roots records you're going to come across, be it bluegrass, country, or folk. McCoury continues along in his country-flavored tradtionalism, a sound reminiscent of Jimmy Martin's glory years -- the band blazes away, and McCoury sings with unshakable emotion and conviction. The music is "modernized" by the introduction of new material into the bluegrass canon, but the music is solid high lonesome... One of the most electrifying moments on this new disc is a killer cover version of British folkie Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," an absolutely brilliant inter-genre move on McCoury's part... It's also a very moving song, in Del's ever-capable hands. The rest of the album is stunning as well: solid picking and great production. HIGHLY recommended!
Roger McGuinn "Treasures From The Folk Den" (Appleseed, 2001)
Roger McGuinn had a twelve-string guitar, it was like nothing you'd ever heard... He still does, in fact, although these days he just as likely to be playing a six-string or a banjo, even singing a capella... This is a delightful, relaxed new album with the ex-Byrd and folk-rock pioneer sounding remarkably undiminished as he ambles through numerous traditional folk ditties, aided and abetted by an all-star cast including fellow old-timers Judy Collins, Jean Ritchie, Tommy Makem, Josh White and Pete Seeger, as well as super-talented UK newcomer Eliza Carthy. A lot of the songs are fairly obscure (recalling that charming '60s penchant for folkloric prowess as competitive display...) and the McGuinn versions are all pretty nice. This old feller sure knows how to tell a tale! Worth checking out!
Buddy & Julie Miller "Buddy & Julie Miller" (Hightone, 2001)
Although this husband/wife team have pitched in on one another's albums over the years, this is actually the first time they've released a record as a duo... And it's pretty nice. Still a little muscle-bound and house-rockin' for my tastes, but pretty damn catchy for that turf. Buddy Miller, of course, has considerable roots and country chops, and the mousy-voiced and mildly nutty Julie Miller has a rather distinctive tone as a songwriter. Some of their material is quite reflective, and tracks such as the Carter Family-flavored "Forever Has Come To An End" and "Rachael" are quite compelling. Even on the choppier, more rock-tinged material, the Millers have a way of commanding our attention... Another strong effort, and well worth checking out!
Montgomery Gentry "Carrying On" (Columbia, 2001)
(Produced by Jon Scaife & Anthony Martin)
Here's one for the Confederate flag crowd... It took me a while to catch on that this was the name of a duo and not one guy... These beefy good old boys have a sizable Southern Rock streak to 'em... Very poppy, and full of soft-macho posturing, with a profound philosophical dilemma: straighten up my life, or hang out with the fellas down at the bar? Nothing that blew me away here, really, but they do manage to rhyme "drink" and "think" in two separate songs... which is quite an accomplishment, when you stop to think about it.
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