Howdy, neighbors!

Howdy, folks! Here are some reviews of the new country, bluegrass and Americana records that I had the good fortune to listen to in October, 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: October, 2012
Audie Blaylock "Hard Country" (Rural Rhythm)
Tony Booth "The Essential Tony Booth" (Heart Of Texas)
Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson "Wreck And Ruin" (Sugar Hill)
Ry Cooder "Election Special" (Nonesuch)
Moot Davis "Man About Town" (Highway Kind)
Iris Dement "Sing The Delta" (Flariella)
Front Porch String Band "Hills Of Alabam' " (Rebel)
Jamey Johnson "Living For A Song" (Mercury Nashville)
Doyle Lawson "Sing Me A Song About Jesus" (Mountain Home)
Loafer's Glory "Loafer's Glory" (Arhoolie)
Kermit Lynch "Donuts & Coffee" (Mesa Bluemoon)
Taj Mahal "The Hidden Treasures Of Taj Mahal: 1969-1973" (Sony Legacy)
The Mastersons "Birds Fly South" (New West)
McCamy's Melody Sheiks "There's More Pretty Girls Than One" (Arhoolie)
Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers "They're Playing My Song" (Rebel)
Preservation Hall Jazz Band "50th Anniversary Collection" (Legacy Recordings)
Pete Seeger "Pete Remembers Woody" (Appleseed)
Pete Seeger & Lorre Wyatt "A More Perfect Union" (Appleseed)
World Famous Headliners "World Famous Headliners" (Big Yellow Dog)
Various Artists "TRUE BLUEGRASS: BANJO" (Rebel)
Various Artists "TRUE BLUEGRASS: FIDDLE" (Rebel)

New Stuff: October, 2012

Audie Blaylock & Redline "Hard Country" (Rural Rhythm, 2012)
(Produced by Audie Blaylock)

"Hard country" is what I call honkytonk and old hillbilly stuff, but bluegrass bandleader Audie Blaylock has a slightly different take on the phrase, using it to frame a sweet, solid set of traditional truegrass that draws on the bluesy twang of Jimmy Martin as well as the expansive, subtle folkiness of the progressive bluegrass scene. Fans of J.D. Crowe and the New South might want to check this guy out -- newcomer Blaylock is definitely keeping the torch alive.

Tony Booth "The Essential Tony Booth" (Heart Of Texas, 2009)
A welcome best-of set featuring the early 1970's recordings of Tony Booth, who was one of the last notable artists in the West Coast-based "Bakersfield Sound." Booth was a protege of Buck Owens, who often produced his records, but his early hits came as Owens himself began edging towards retirement, so Booth had to find his own path. Dwindling chart success led Booth to step out of the spotlight, first leaving Capitol, then releasing a few singles on other labels -- these days he's an indie artist, like a lot of other old-timers. This disc gathers a bunch of his stuff on the Capitol label from 1972-74, including the #1 hit, "The Key's In The Mailbox," and a bunch of cool album tracks, but only a few of actual singles. Still, it's all good stuff, a nice mix of robust honkytonk and perky '70s production.

Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson "Wreck And Ruin" (Sugar Hill, 2012)

Ry Cooder "Election Special" (Nonesuch, 2012)

Moot Davis "Man About Town" (Highway Kind, 2012)
(Produced by Kenny Vaughan)

Singer Moot Davis has been knocking around the indie-twang scene for a decade or so, and on his previous albums he's dabbled in a variety of styles. Here, he narrows it down to a couple of strong influences: this album echoes with the roadhouse twang of Gary Stewart and the epic Panhandle poetry of Joe Ely. There's a little dose of Dwight Yoakam in there as well, but most all there's plenty of twang. Davis is backed by some of the best in the business: guitarist Kenny Vaughan and his bandmates from Marty Stuart's group, the Fabulous Superlatives anchor an ensemble that also features exquisite pedal steel from Chris Scruggs... With a band like this behind him, Davis delivers a rock-solid set -- he's had some nuggets on earlier albums, but here he's got a gem.

Iris Dement "Sing The Delta" (Flariella, 2012)

Front Porch String Band "Hills Of Alabam' " (Rebel, 2012)
A nice overview of two old albums the Front Porch String Band recorded for the Rebel label, 1983's Front Porch String Band and Lines And Traces, from 1991... FPSB is best known as bluegrass/newgrass diva Claire Lynch's old band, but they were memorable in their own right, with plenty of sweet picking and a strong repertoire. Lynch has a sweet voice, though her stylings and phrasing often seem derivative, somewhere between Emmylou Harris and Nanci Griffith (with much more of an Emmylou vibe...) Nothing wrong with that! Nice to hear these classic recordings back in print again!

Jamey Johnson "Living For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran" (Mercury Nashville, 2012)
One of the best, most authentic roots-country auteurs in today's country scene pays homage to songwriter Hank Cochran... It's hard to describe just how flat-out satisfying and amazing a record like this is for a hard-country fan like me: each track is a tour-de-force of true twang, where Johnson's love of tradition and grit comes through loud and clear, as does his appreciation of Cochran's work, which -- like Johnson's -- perfectly hits the sweet spot between honkytonk roots and the demands of modern Nashville pop. Cochran's strengths as a composer are reconfirmed as Johnson and his many guests bring the songs to life and make the lyrics their own. And Johnson proves himself a generous and gracious host by letting each of his duet partners stand in the spotlight, complimented by his own rich, robust, rumbling vocals. The album opens with a gorgeous version of "Make The World Go Away," with Alison Krauss mining the emotional agonies of this great melodic oldie; other highlights include a rough-hewn duet with Merle Haggard ("I Fall To Pieces"), a heartbreaking ballad with Elvis Costello ("She'll Be Back"), Emmylou Harris delving deep into the erotic charge of "Don't Touch Me" (perhaps the most frankly carnal song I've ever heard her sing) and Johnson's epic collaboration with Willie Nelson, one of the most sure-fire Cochran interpreters you could ever hope to hear. Jamey Johnson made the most of this opportunity, to harmonize with his heroes, to pay homage to a great and now-underrecognized country composer, and to bring an avalanche of real-deal, hardcore, beautifully arranged true twang into the country mainstream. He sings unaccompanied on only one track, the aching "Would These Arms Be In Your Way," and it, like every other record he's made, is a gem. Another highly recommended album from one of the most potent and soulful artist working in Nashville today.

Doyle Lawson "Sing Me A Song About Jesus" (Mountain Home, 2012)
Pure, sweet bluegrass gospel from the master of the field.

Loafer's Glory "Loafer's Glory" (Arhoolie, 2012)
(Produced by Loafer's Glory)

If you like cool, confident, no-muss, no-fuss traditional bluegrass music, you'll dig this gloriously relaxed session from the top-flight Loafer's Glory ensemble, featuring singer Herb Pedersen and his longtime collaborator, bassist Bill Bryson, along with their pals, Tom and Patrick Sauber, all long-time veterans of the bluegrass and twang scenes. This is a sweet, low-key set packed with old favorites and flawless harmonies and picking... The ensemble vocals remind me of the Osborne Brothers in their mellower moments -- I'm sure you'll find favorable comparisons as well. This is truegrass music the way I like it, tapping into the soulfulness rather than the drag-racing speed-trials aspects. Recommended!

Kermit Lynch "Donuts & Coffee" (Mesa Bluemoon, 2012)
(Produced by Ricky Fataar)

Bluesy, jazzy excursions from pioneering Berkeley wine merchant Kermit Lynch, who likes to pick a tune of two when he's not importing fine hooch from France and the hinterlands. This disc features some unusual arrangements of various country oldies, such as a reggae rendition of "Ring Of Fire" and a Bill Withers-ish funkification of the old George Jones hit, "She Thinks I Still Care." There are also some nice jazz standards, such as "In My Solitude" and "On The Street Where You Live," and a few originals by Lynch, including the sultry, bluesy title track, "Donuts And Coffee." Clearly Mr. Lynch is enjoying his gentle jam sessions...!

Taj Mahal "The Hidden Treasures Of Taj Mahal: 1969-1973" (Sony Legacy, 2012)
(Produced by David Rubinson, Jerry Rappaport & Taj Mahal)

One of the signature records of my hippie-era childhood, along with all the Beatles albums, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, and the Stones, was Taj Mahal's magnificent double album, Giant Step/De Old Folks At Home, which was probably my main introduction to the rich sounds of Delta blues and other acoustic styles. On the "pop" disc there is, of course, Taj Mahal's slyly magical cover of Carole King's "Take A Giant Step," as well as a jaunty runthrough of Dave Dudley's "Six Days On The Road" and blues grooves like "You're Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond" and "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," all of which were staples of 1970s "free form" radio. The early '70s were a peak time for Mahal, and his presence on the hippie music scene was unique, for his mix of styles and cheerful, larger-than-life personality. This 2-CD odds/ends/outtakes collection draws on that same era, and it is a potent set of groovy, compelling material that will remind old fans of what an amazing musician this guy was... Youngsters will get a lot out of it, too: if you're into those funky jug band/old-timey tunes from the Carolina Chocolate Drops, this guy is their spiritual and musical granddaddy. Disc One unearths a dozen studio session gems featuring the same band that backed Taj on his albums, with alternate versions of beloved oldies, while Disc Two presents a full concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1970. The live material tilts towards more upbeat, rock-oriented party material, "boogie rock," they called it at the time, while the studio tracks reveal Mahal's true genius, his visionary balance between acoustic roots music and modern, hippie-era pop -- most notably his use of the bright tones of a dobro guitar as a lead instrument in an electrified music mix. Listening back, I am struck by how much he managed to bypass rock'n'roll altogether, instead fusing deep-roots acoustic music with smouldering soul and serious funk. There are, to be sure, some spaced-out jam-band excesses, but in a good way: the smoky, erotic groove of "Yan-Nah Mama-Loo" and the sizzling, butt-shaking rhythm of "Chainey Do," are pure gold. The tracks at the end of the first disc were produced by New Orleans soul pioneer Allen Toussaint; the best of these is an experimental psychedelic banjo/wah-wah jam on the Appalachian oldie, "Shady Grove," which adds some unexpected twists to of this old-timey chestnut. Perhaps the best news of all is that this album is the herald of a reissue series that will include all of Taj Mahal's old Columbia albums... and a modern remaster of Giant Step is certainly long overdue. I'm looking forward to days to come!

The Mastersons "Birds Fly South" (New West, 2012)
(Produced by The Mastersons & Steve Christensen)

An intriguing collaboration here featuring lead singers Eleanor Whitmore and Chris Masterson, who have wildly different approaches to the Americana genre, but meld their efforts well and present a cohesive band vision. Whitmore is more anthemic rock/pop inflected, with echoes of Mindy Smith and Aimee Mann, while Masterson reveals an introspective folk and twang influence, hearkening back to the Uncle Tupelo/Jayhawks/Old 97s style of yesteryear. Both their lyrics have what I would consider a college-student bent to them, with sort of finger-pointy lyrics about what "you" (the person they're singing to) did to inspire the song, using songwriting as a way to explore emotional revelations and new life experiences. There's a strong spiral-notebook feel to a lot of the lyrics, but several songs will stand out. This is maybe a little more rock-oriented than I care for these days, but I'm still curious to see where these guys will go from here.

McCamy's Melody Sheiks "There's More Pretty Girls Than One" (Arhoolie, 2011)
(Produced by Ian McCamy)

Folks who like idiosyncratic, creaky old-timey melodies, squeaky violins and geezerly vocals will find a lot to cheer about in this loopy, eclectic band. Anchored by fiddler Ian McCamy -- an American expat living in France -- the Melody Sheiks also features cartoonist Robert Crumb, who is renowned in old-timey circles as an uber-collector of rare 78s, and has helped McCamy explore various styles of antique music from the dawn of the recording era. In previous collaborations such as Les Primitifs Du Futur, they've jammed on French musette, and here they plow into ragged, rootsy American mountain music with a hint of jug band blues. It's fun stuff, unruly and odd, as it ought to be, and should appeal to fans of Crumb's old compatriots, the Cheap Suit Serenaders. Give her a whirl!

Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers "They're Playing My Song" (Rebel, 2012)
(Produced by Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers)

A solid, swing set of no-nonsense twangy, traditional bluegrass from one of the most dynamic and dedicated bands around... The picking is beautiful, the vocals are full of soul and the sound production is sweet. Banjo plunker and lead singer Joe Mullins has been around for a while: he was the bands Traditional Grass and Longview before setting out as a bandleader, and he certainly has the confidence and clarity of a veteran performer. This album is a strong set of songs drawing from contemporary bluegrassers such as Becky Buller and Dave Evans, as well as a few originals from various Radio Ramblers and some well-chosen oldies from folks such as the Delmore Brothers, Bill Anderson and a medley of tunes from the Osborne Brothers. Great stuff!

Preservation Hall Jazz Band "50th Anniversary Collection" (Legacy Recordings, 2012)
A 4-CD, 58-track box set spanning the foundation of this legendary New Orleans institution (back in 1962) through its various incarnations over the years. This features guest performances from a host of blues, jazz, pop and folk luminaries, including bluegrass bandleader Del McCoury, folk icon Pete Seeger, hippie-era balladeer Richie Havens, Tom Wait, and many others. For more info, check out the Preservation Hall website.

Pete Seeger "Pete Remembers Woody" (Appleseed, 2012)

Pete Seeger & Lorre Wyatt "A More Perfect Union: New Songs With Old Friends" (Appleseed, 2012)

World Famous Headliners "World Famous Headliners" (Big Yellow Dog, 2012)
(Produced by Justin Niebank)

Chunky, greasy, groove-heavy rock'n'blues from a bunch of old-timer musical craftsmen: in the 1990's Big Al Anderson made the move from being the hot-shot guitarist in NRBQ to becoming one of Nashville's hottest songwriters -- he still picks some mean electric riffs, though. Jamming with Anderson are fellow songwriters Pat McLaughlin and Shawn Camp, also old hands in the Nashville scene, along with the rhythm section of Michael Rhodes and Greg Morrow. This is little too rock-oriented and Muscle Shoals-y for me, but roots-rock fans might wanna check it out.

Various Artists "TRUE BLUEGRASS: BANJO" (Rebel, 2012)
Drawing on forty years worth of independently released bluegrass back catalog, Rebel Records digs through the vaults to find some of the finest banjo plunkers who have graced their roster... Jimmy Arnold, J.D. Crowe, Bill emerson, Alan Munde and Dr. Ralph Stanley are among the top-flight pickers on this budget-priced sampler set, some playing hard and some playing sweet. A fun disc to listen to and a nice introduction to a variety of banjo styles... Recommended!

Various Artists "TRUE BLUEGRASS: FIDDLE" (Rebel, 2012)
Like the Banjo set above, this disc combs through the Rebel Records vaults for choice selections by the many fiddlers who have recorded for them over the years. Kenny Baker, Curly Ray Cline, Glen Duncan, Bobby Hicks and Art Stamper are some of the headliners, and some less well-known (and some more old-timey oriented) artists are also included... Plus remember the days when Ricky Skaggs used to play more fiddle? Well, you can hear them now... Another nice sampler, and hopefully one that will help you dig deeper into the rich catalog of this venerable bluegrass label -- one of the last great indies around!

Hick Music Index
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