Howdy, folks! Here are some reviews of the new country, bluegrass and Americana records that I had the good fortune to listen to in February, 2011. This page gets updated throughout the month, so check back if you can... Also, check out my full Guide To Hick Music for a bazillion more record reviews and artist profiles.
Allerton & Alton "Black, White And Bluegrass" (Bear Family)
Drive-By Truckers "Go-Go Boots" (ATO)
Susan Gibson "Tightrope" (ForTheRecords)
Holly Golightly "Medicine County" (Transdreamer)
Wanda Jackson "The Party Ain't Over" (Nonesuch)
The Jane Dear Girls "The Jane Dear Girls" (Reprise)
Bill Mack "Play My Boogie" (Jasmine)
Joe Mullins "Hymns From The Hills" (Rebel)
Luke Powers "Hwy. 100" (Phoebe Claire)
Randy Rogers Band "Burning The Day" (MCA Nashville)
Ralph Stanley "Something Old, Something New" (Rebel)
Ralph Stanley "I'll Wear A White Robe" (Rebel)
Various Artists "HILLBILLY BOP, BOOGIE & HONKY TONK BLUES" (Jasmine)
Various Artists "THE MUSIC INSIDE: A COLLABORATION DEDICATED TO WAYLON" (Scatter)
Allerton & Alton "Black, White And Bluegrass" (Bear Family, 2010)
The folks at Bear Family score another coup with this archival set of bluegrass radio shows featuring the New England duo of Al Hawkes and Alton Meyers, who performed together in Maine as The Cumberland Ridge Runners. They were a solid regional bluegrass act, with plenty of lively picking and a good traditional repertoire... What was unique about them was that the duo was interracial: Hawkes was a white farmer's kid from Maine, and Meyers came from a railroading family, but they shared a love of old-time stringband music and hit a nice groove together. In the late 1940s and early '50s, they sang together on radio station WLAM, and built up a pretty solid following (although there were some rough spots along the way, with segregated clubs and the like... ) After the Korean War, which ended their partnership, Hawkes went on to start an independent record label and released singles by regional stars such as Dick Curless, Don Stover, Hal Lone Pine and Betty Cody, and their son, guitarist Lenny Breau. The airshots on this album show a strong, vibrant truegrass act, maybe not wildly different or better than the hundreds of other bands around at the time, but rock solid and totally entertaining. And what a nice glimpse of art transcending politics and prejudice, 'way back in goodle days. Check it out!
Drive-By Truckers "Go-Go Boots" (ATO, 2011)
Raunchy, swampy, rootsy, jam-bandy, though now with an increasingly prominent dose of indie-pop. Are they still considered alt-country? Do I care? Nah... not really, not so much. These guys never really grabbed my imagination.
Susan Gibson "Tightrope" (ForTheRecords, 2011)
(Produced by Susan Gibson & Gabe Rhodes)
A nice acoustic album from country-confessional songwriter Susan Gibson, who is best known for composing "Wide Open Spaces," one of the biggest hits for the Dixie Chicks, back in the day. This is a stripped-down set, with just Gibson and Gabe Rhodes on second guitar... The vibe is pretty mellow, and there's a variety of styles, ranging from coffeehouse folk to the wordy, freeform folk-twang which these days can mysteriously become a Nashville hit, if it falls into the right hands. Gibson comes off as an appealing figure, an unpretentious, straightforward songsmith with some interesting topics and twists of phrase. Interestingly, though, she doesn't jump out with a passle of anthemic blockbusters ala "Wide Open Spaces," sticking instead to a more introspective, reserved feel. If you like folk-ish fillies such as Pam Rose, Holly Dunn and, of course, the Dixie Chicks themselves, you might want to give this a spin. Nice to hear an independent voice once in a while!
Holly Golightly "Medicine County" (Transdreamer, 2010)
British garage rocker Holly Golightly has been on a twang kick for a few years now, with her band The Brokeoffs in a curious mix of styles -- raspy garage-blues with hints of cranky bluegrass and honkytonk country. The songs don't grab me the same way as her classic garage-pop gems, but if you enjoy noisy Brits-do-billy stuff such as Jon Langford and the Waco Brothers, you might want to give this a whirl as well.
Wanda Jackson "The Party Ain't Over" (Nonesuch, 2011)
The Jane Dear Girls "The Jane Dear Girls" (Warner-Reprise, 2011)
Faux-roots country with antiseptic modern production; the slick studio sound I can handle, but what really bugs me are their vocals -- the flat, phony sneer of contemporary teenybopper pop infects their harmonies, and shrieks out the blandness of their product. Yeah, I "get" that commercial country has cross-pollinated with post-Miley Cyrus pop, and I get that this is a valid stylistic choice... I just personally find it terribly empty and uninvolving. Oh, well. Can't win 'em all.
Bill Mack "Play My Boogie" (Jasmine, 2010)
Joe Mullins "Hymns From The Hills" (Rebel, 2011)
(Produced by Joe Mullins & Evan McGregor)
A rock-solid set of high-lonesome bluegrass gospel with some modern songwriter-y moments and Southern Gospel touches... Overall, I'd peg Mullins as a true keeper of the flame, as far as traditional, soulful mountain music goes. I liked his secular stuff as well, and thought he an his band really soared on this album. If you like to get all Jesus-y with your bluegrass, definitely give this one a whirl. Guest artists include truegrass gospel purists Doyle Lawson and Paul Williams, as well as Larry Sparks, Rhonda Vincent and the venerable Ralph Stanley... That's my kinda party!
Luke Powers "Hwy. 100" (Phoebe Claire, 2010)
More than a little rough around the edges, Mr. Powers has a voice that, perhaps, only a mother could love... But while his singing style might be an acquired taste, the indie-ness and DIY of it all is undeniable. Plus, he writes some interesting songs... Not everything's going to knock your socks off, but Powers is a distinctive, unusual artist, and a real oddball, to boot. (Check out a song like "World's Smallest Confederate Veteran," to see what I mean...) Worth checking out if you like stuff that really is off the beaten track...
Randy Rogers Band "Burning The Day" (MCA Nashville, 2010)
Ralph Stanley "Something Old, Something New" (Rebel, 1971/2011)
Rebel Records has always had a great track record for making its old stuff available for fans, either on LP or cassette, then on CDs, and now -- fortunately for some, sadly for others -- in a series of digital-only reissues. On one hand, seeing these these Ralph Stanley oldies back in action is great... Old fogies like me might still prefer actual physical artifacts, but many younger folks aren't really into the clutter, and I know the economics of reissues have never really favored labels, be they big or small. So Rebel's rolling with the digital flow, and I hope that means they have great success matching the music up with the fans. And, by the way, this is a swell old album from back in the days when Dr. Stanley was really getting the ball rolling with his post-Stanley Brothers "solo" career, and when his band included newcomers Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley. Scrappy independent truegrass at its best!
Ralph Stanley "I'll Wear A White Robe" (Rebel, 1980/2011)
One of many great all-gospel albums from the Ralph Stanley catalog. This edition of the band featured Charlie Sizemore, a young new singer who would go on to become a successful bandleader himself... Great stuff!
Various Artists "HILLBILLY BOP, BOOGIE & HONKY TONK BLUES" (Jasmine, 2010)
Various Artists "THE MUSIC INSIDE: A COLLABORATION DEDICATED TO WAYLON" (Scatter, 2010)
(Produced by Witt Stewart)
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