Howdy, folks! Here are some reviews of the new country, bluegrass and Americana records that I had the good fortune to listen to in August, 2012. 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.
New Stuff: August, 2012
Brandi Carlisle "Bear Creek" (Columbia)
Mary Chapin Carpenter "Ashes And Roses" (Rounder)
Rodney Crowell/Various Artists "Kin" (Vanguard)
The Flatlanders "The Odessa Tapes: 1972" (New West)
Gloriana "A Thousand Miles Left Behind" (Emblem)
Clinton Gregory "Too Much Ain't Enough" (Melody Roundup)
John Hiatt "Mystic Pinball" (New West)
Corb Lund "Cabin Fever" (New West)
Reverend Payton's Big Damn Band "Between The Ditches" (Side One Dummy)
Laura Lee Perkins "Don't Wait Up" (Bear Family)
Mimi Roman "I'm Ready If You're Willing" (Bear Family)
Josh Turner "Punching Bag" (MCA Nashville, 2012)
Paul Williams & The Victory Trio "Going To Stay In The Old-Time Way" (Rebel)
Brandi Carlisle "Bear Creek" (Columbia, 2012)
(Produced by Brandi Carlisle, Phil & Tim Hanseroth, and Trina Shoemaker)
Bonnie Raitt-ish twang-folk with a big dose of bluesy pop... If you like classic old Bonnie, or perhaps Shelby Lynne for a more modern reference point, you might dig Carlisle as well. A little more of an indiepop/folkie vibe, but still in the same ballpark...
Mary Chapin Carpenter "Ashes And Roses" (Rounder/Zoe Records, 2012)
Rodney Crowell/Various Artists "KIN: SONGS BY MARY KARR AND RODNEY CROWELL" (Vanguard, 2012)
(Produced by Joe Henry)
A collaboration between country auteur Rodney Crowell and poet/memoirist Mary Karr, with interpretations of their lyrics by Rosanne Cash, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Lee Ann Womack and others. A high-powered, high-concept album!
The Flatlanders "The Odessa Tapes: 1972" (CD & DVD) (New West, 2012)
(Produced by Peter Jesperson)
Cosmic country from one of the great legendary bands of the Texas indie/outlaw scene: The Flatlanders was a trio comprised of Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore who forged a new mix of Texas country and '70s folk, and in their solo careers went on to help define the "Americana" scene of the '70s and '80s, before that style even had a name... This album is a previously-unreleased set they recorded in 1972 at the studios of Tommy Allsup in Odessa, Texas, with the trio augmented by a small band, but still with a pretty sparse sound. Gilmore is the lead singer, although he and Hancock each wrote about half the songs; Ely is content with a backing role, including some tentative work on the dobro, in a brisk style that's reminiscent of old Bashful Brother Oswald. These tapes, long lost somewhere in the vaults, were recorded several months before the Nashville sessions that became their first album, and have a similar feel, recalling the poetic hippie-folkie explorations of fellow Texan Townes Van Zandt as well as the old-school country of Roy Acuff, with a hint of a more rugged honkytonk sound hovering around the edges. Several songs that would become part of their canon are included in early versions here, such as Gilmore's "Dallas" and "Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go Downtown," which would also be recorded by Gilmore and Ely on their solo albums. Several of Hancock's songs show a strong cosmic/psychedelic influence, such as "Stars In My Life" and "I Think Too Much Of You," which literally ponder the cosmos and the nature of life and the universe -- these charming hippie relics are also intricately intertwined with older country and folk themes and show the depth of their musical roots, as well as their experimental, modern direction. Flatlanders fans will be psyched to have this album see the light of day -- also included is a DVD mini-documentary which features Ely, Gilmore and Hancock interviewed about their early days, as well as archival footage that gives us a whiff of the Texas scene that orbited around them. Cool stuff!
Gloriana "A Thousand Miles Left Behind" (Emblem, 2012)
(Produced by Matt Serletic)
Cheerful but generic country-pop from this nearly-chart-topping band... This is gentle, pleasant, catchy stuff, a set of sweet, romantic pop songs, with wistful melodies, yearning lyrics, and sugary, prefab twang. It's not quite my style but I appreciate the lack of macho posturing and phony nostalgia for a mythic small-town world, the stuff that clutters up so many other contemporary Nashville albums. Rather than beckon you back into a Mayberry filled with gun-racks, pickup trucks and empty beer bottles, Gloriana are content to ask you to gaze into a lover's eyes. Nothing wrong with that!
Clinton Gregory "Too Much Ain't Enough" (Melody Roundup, 2012)
(Produced by Jamey Creasy & Clinton Gregory)
In the early 1990s, singer-fiddler Clinton Gregory moved from the world of bluegrass into mainstream country, recording a series of excellent albums and several singles that cracked the lower rungs of the Country Top 40. As the opening track on his new album suggests, Gregory was a little "Too Country For Nashville," and eventually his traditionally-oriented sound faltered against the wave of increasingly modern sounds that swept Nashville at the time. He slipped out of sight, but many fans treasure his old albums, and doubtless they'll love this one as well. Of course, what counts as "retro" keeps changing along with what's "contemporary," and some of these songs -- particularly the ballads -- may sound a little slick compared to the honky-tony tinges of his old stuff. Still, there's plenty of fiddle and pedal steel, and Gregory still sings 'em like he means 'em, with sincerity and conviction. A nice comeback from a rootsy '90s crooner.
John Hiatt "Mystic Pinball" (New West, 2012)
(Produced by Kevin Shirley)
A rock-solid set from roots-rock auteur John Hiatt, who blends crunchy, gritty bar-band riffs with a crisp power-pop undertone. Hiatt is one of those guys who has grown into grizzled, old-geezer persona he adopted as a young man, and his world-weary lyrics ring truer now than they did in the 1970s... This album opens with the rugged but optimistic pop gem "We're Alright Now," followed by a series of rougher-hewn thumpy rock songs, tempered by a few sly, sweet acoustic ballads... All in all, a potent, compact album delivered with fierce efficiency, a record that'll dazzle old fans and newcomers alike.
Corb Lund "Cabin Fever" (New West, 2012)
(Produced by Steve Christensen & The Hurtin' Albertans)
Canadian roots/country stalwart Corb Lund opens this set with a bouncy but truly frightening survivialist anthem, "Gettin' Down On The Mountain," which predicts an end to the petrochemical economy, and advises listeners to stockpile a little more ammo and did their own wells if they want some clean drinking water. This is followed by the equally cheerful "Dig Gravedigger Dig," and while I ain't saying this is an apocalyptic concept album, it sure is a little more downbeat than Lund's usual twangy pickups'n'pints joshing around. The gloom and doom vibe doesn't last forever, though: he summons an acoustic ballad ("September") and a zippy motorcycle song ("Mein Deutsches Motorrad"), some drinking songs and a couple of tunes about cows and cowboys. So, the end of civilization could be fun, after all. As always, Lund and his band (the Hurtin' Albertans) produce some high-quality twang, and his sharp sense of humor comes through loud and clear, even if there seem to be a few dark clouds on the horizon up North.
Reverend Payton's Big Damn Band "Between The Ditches" (Side One Dummy, 2012)
(Produced by The Reverend Payton & Paul Mahern)
Plainspoken themes -- about poverty, broken trucks, drug abuse, life lived roughly -- set to thumping, greasy blues riffs with simple, driving slide guitar a galloping, simple rhythm. I'm not a big fan of white-trash stereotypes in Americana music, but I gotta say I enjoyed every song on this album. Mr. Payton takes the repetitive blues zeal of John Lee Hooker, places it into a hillbilly context and drives it home on song after song. A fun album with an unusual, appealing sound. Recommended.
Laura Lee Perkins "Don't Wait Up" (Juke Box Pearls series) (Bear Family, 2012)
One of the shortest Bear Family CDs ever, this collects rare '50s singles from piano-plunkin' rockabilly siren Laura Lee Perkins, who was billed as a "female Jerry Lee Lewis." Her professional output totaled a mere two fiery 45s for the Imperial label, accompanied here by demo sessions and some live recordings -- 14 tracks in all. Of special note is the guitar playing of the great Joe Maphis on her studio sessions.
Mimi Roman "I'm Ready If You're Willing" (Juke Box Pearls series) (Bear Family, 2012)
A fascinating set of obscuro country from the 1950s from a Jewish gal from Salinas, California who broke through on the Arthur Godfrey talent show and was signed to Decca Records as a pop singer, but who insisted on recording country material. Roman (nee Rothman) tackled rockabilly and uptempo honkytonk material as well as plenty of weepers, and she toured in the Philip Morris Caravan package show, along with many of the biggest stars of the era, but despite her best efforts she never broke through as a headliner or even as a national act. This is a nice selection of her country best country stuff, and a real goldmine for fans of hillbilly fillies -- she had kind of a rough voice, but in the country context, it'll win you over. There are a few more Mimi Roman songs out there to be heard... Perhaps someday Bear Family (or some other label) will issue a follow-up disc?
Josh Turner "Punching Bag" (MCA Nashville, 2012)
(Produced by Frank Rogers)
An impressive album where Top-40 Nashville star Josh Turner hits the nail on the head on each and every song. The first half of the album is more mainstream, uptempo, dude-ly pop-country, macho but not too macho, and more importantly, a well-produced set of tunes, with enough twang to catch my attention and keep me happy. Turner gets sentimental and goes all family-values on a trio of tunes at the album's end -- a gospel song ("For The Love Of God"), one about raising kids ("I Was There") and a romantic ballad about getting married and settling down ("Left Hand Man") all of which affirm family values without getting all in-your-face about it, or losing the music in favor of the message. Turner remains a rock-solid performer, a singer with a great voice and good in material to cover. Another winner from one of the top talents in contemporary Top Forty country.
Paul Williams & The Victory Trio "Going To Stay In The Old-Time Way" (Rebel, 2012)
Another sweet collection of traditionally-oriented bluegrass gospel from Paul Williams, an old-timer who is perhaps the finest practitioner of this style, other than Dr. Ralph Stanley and Doyle Lawson. A veteran of the golden age of bluegrass, Williams was in Jimmy Martin's classic 1950s band, and as this album demonstrates, he is one of the most vigorous performers left from that generation of bluegrass pioneers. Even taking into account a little technical fiddling around (there's an album credit for "vocal tuning") Williams has a remarkably robust voice, and in song after song he nails what makes this genre so appealing -- the yearning, the emotion, the mix of assurance and humility. As on earlier albums, he includes a mix of older traditional songs and newer material that expands the genre, including several songs by Paul Humphrey, each of which is a gem. If you enjoy either Christian country or just plain old sweet harmony vocals, you'll want to check this album out. Another winner from a bluegrass legend.
Hick Music Index
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