Howdy, folks! Here are some reviews of the new country, bluegrass and Americana records that I had the good fortune to listen to in November, 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. (BY THE WAY: don't forget that it's holiday season: my Christmas Country guide is online if you're looking for any holiday twang...)
New Stuff: November, 2012
Jason Aldean "Night Train" (Broken Bow)
Big & Rich "Hillbilly Jedi" (Warner Brothers) Johnny Cash "The Complete Columbia Albums Collection" (Sony Legacy)
Yodeling Slim Clark "Singin', Yodelin', Guitar Pickin' Cowboy Songs" (Jasmine)
Ry Cooder "Election Special" (Nonesuch)
Billy Dean "A Man Of Good Fortune" (Rainman Records)
Toby Keith "Hope On The Rocks" (Universal/Show Dog)
Lady Antebellum "On This Winter's Night" (Capitol)
Jerrod Niemann "Free The Music" (Sony Nashville-Arista)
Nu-Blu "Nail By Nail" (Pinecastle)
Scotty McCreary "Christmas With Scotty McCreery" (Mercury Nashville)
Taylor Swift "Red" (Big Machine)
Jason Aldean "Night Train" (Broken Bow, 2012)
Big & Rich "Hillbilly Jedi" (Warner Brothers, 2012)
Whatever. I'm not a fan of their work.
Johnny Cash "The Complete Columbia Albums Collection" (Sony Legacy, 2012)
This is it, kids! A massive, 63-CD uber-collection, gathering every album the Johnny Cash recorded for Columbia Records from 1958 on, including dozens of albums from the 1970s that haven't been reissued on CD before and, sadly, are unlikely to come out individually before the era of the compact disc is done. So, here you go: the good the bad and the ugly -- it's all here! A close-to-ultimate collection for the most hardcore Cash fan... Now you know what to get me for Christmas!
Yodeling Slim Clark "Singin', Yodelin', Guitar Pickin' Cowboy Songs" (Jasmine, 2012)
The second volume of Jasmine's admirably extensive overview of Slim Clark's career, coming hot on the heels of their Cowboy & Yodel Songs collection. Good, authentic, old-fashioned yodeling music, sure to please fans of the style.
Ry Cooder "Election Special" (Nonesuch, 2012)
Man, it's hard to believe this election is finally going to be over. Go, team, go!!
Billy Dean "A Man Of Good Fortune" (Rainman Records, 2012)
(Produced by Ray Barnette & Billy Dean)
In his Top 40 days, country crooner Dilly Dean specialized in tinkly-piano romantic ballads, but returning to the fray as an indie artist, he indulges in some fine, good-natured uptempo honkytonk-pop, stuff that wouldn't be out of place on a Dierks Bentley album. It's a surprising, pleasantly rootsy record -- at least on the first half -- with winners like "I Can't Leave A Good Thing" and "Middle Of Nowhere," which puts a slightly new spin on the modern-day country theme of nostalgia for small-town middle America: in Dean's vision, the nostalgia's still there, but he can accept the fact that sometimes some things change. The same goes for us: "I Don't Need As Much Hell To Raise" details the singer's adventures in middle-age, confronting diet and heart disease, but concluding that all is not lost just because you can't eat fast food takeout every day anymore. On the record's second half, he softens up and returns to his old style of mellow romanticism... That'll make old-time fans happy, too. A strong later album from a former young-country star.
Larry Hosford "Momentarily Yours" (4th Street Records, 2012)
(Produced by Larry Hosford & Adam Zerbe)
Hippiebilly twangster Larry Hosford has been a fixture on the Central California coastal/Santa Cruz music scene since his highschool days when he wrote several songs for a '60s garage band called the E-Types; in the '70s he recorded two of the finest independent country albums of the decade, and has reemerged in recent years to keep the indie flame alive. Personally, I love the guy's voice, and it's a pleasure just to hear his creaky crooning, as well as his unique lyrical sensibility. Here, Hosford is backed (as usual) by talented but little-known players -- I recognized Rick Shea's name, but that's about it -- and the locals-only vibe just adds to the authenticity and charm of his work. Nice guitars and pretty pedal steel are framed by unassuming, understated accompaniment, and the lyrics are classic Hosford, a mix of comedy and easygoing reflections on the imperfections of humanity. Hosford is one of those guys who's always had an "old man" voice throughout his career, and now has really grown into it -- not sure how old he is, but he must be pushing about 70 -- and he wears it well, sounding pretty much exactly like he did thirty-plus years ago. Hosford is, admittedly, an acquired taste, but longtime fans will love this record -- you youngsters might like it too, and if so, you'll want to track down those old LPs, too. Welcome back, Larry!
Toby Keith "Hope On The Rocks" (Universal/Show Dog, 2012)
(Produced by Toby Keith)
The big, lovable lug is back... This time around Toby's sticking pretty firmly to novelty songs, and while it's tempting to just say he's coasting (because he is) you also gotta admit he's pretty good at this workmanlike musicmaking. Still, I remember back about ten years ago when I realized that Keith was actually a damn fine honkytonk singer -- one of he best in his generation -- and I can't help but feel that he could be recording songs that were grittier and more meaningful than all this neo-Hank Jr. stuff. I mean, a tune like "Haven't Had A Drink All Day" is pretty funny, material like the barroom ballad, "The Size I Wear," "Scat Cat," "Cold Beer Country," or "I Like Girls That Like Beer" are pretty been-there, done-that for Toby. I think I'd like to hear him try something new, and challenge himself a bit: the talent's there, he just needs to push out of his by-the-numbers, macho-dude comfort zone. Or not. I'm sure he doesn't really need my advice on how to run his career.
Lady Antebellum "On This Winter's Night" (Capitol, 2012)
(Produced by Paul Worley)
Christmas standards from the Lady Antebellum trio. They take a pretty strictly pop approach, with just a tiny trace of twang. Not much, though... I doubt it will matter to fans, though, particularly those in a holiday kind of mood. This sounds kinda like a lost Michael McDonald/Stevie Nicks album from the early '80s; make of that what you will.
Aaron Lewis "The Road" (Warner/Blaster Records, 2012)
(Produced by James Stroud & Aaron Lewis)
A rocker from the alt-metal band, Staind, singer Aaron Lewis "went country" a couple of years ago and signed with James Stroud's short-lived Stroudavarious label. He's still working with Stroud on this solid set of chunky neo-trad twang -- it's not quite in Dwight Yoakam or Alan Jackson territory, maybe more like Montgomery Gentry or Tracy Lawrence in their rootsier moments, but a welcome change of pace from the usual Nashville pop of today. Lewis wrote almost all the songs on this album, and he dutifully follows the formulas -- songs about God and guns and gettin' drunk. He also adds deep, robust vocals, although I have to say it doesn't feel like he cuts loose as much as he could -- he doesn't quite rise above the music mix and fully own it, maybe because he doesn't want to go all rock'n'roll on it? Well, anyway, this is commercial country, but it's got some grit - worth checking out if you're looking for mainstream stuff with a little edge.
Scotty McCreary "Christmas With Scotty McCreery" (Mercury Nashville, 2012)
(Produced by Mark Bright)
The deep-voiced Mr. McCreery also plays it safe with a set of Chritsmastime standards; the nice thing here, though, is that he also keeps it country. There's twang in his voice and a healthy bit of bluesy country as well... If you enjoyed Joe Nichols' or Alan Jackson's holiday albums, you'll probably dig this one too. Recommended!
Jerrod Niemann "Free The Music" (Sony Nashville-Arista, 2012)
(Produced by Dave Brainard & Jerrod Niemann)
High-tech country. Way too high-tech for me. It sounds cluttered and awful, really, packed with bright, brash, un-country production -- echo-y guitars, phony-baloney "island" rhythms, etc.... The title track, for example, is horrible, and noting really gets better from there on in. I'm sure somebody will dig this, but I just can't wrap my head around it.
Nu-Blu "Nail By Nail" (Pinecastle, 2012)
(Produced by Nu-Blu)
An all-gospel offering from this talented band of bluegrass newcomers... Seven songs of modern vintage by composers such as Becky Buller, Tim Stafford and Donna Ulisse. There are some uptempo harmony-driven numbers, but more that are closer to the "contemporary Christian" field -- slower, serious ballads like Tim Wheeler's "You See Jesus" and Marc Rossi's "The Abyss," and the album's closer, "The Hammer," written by lead singer Carolyn Routh. I go more for the perky, rootsy stuff -- Stafford's "Where'd You Get That Water" and Buller's "Martha And Mary" are highlights here -- but I imagine there are many CCM and Southern Gospel fans who might like this album a lot.
Blake Shelton "Cheers It's Christmas" (Warner Brothers, 2012)
(Produced by Scott Hendricks & Brent Rowan)
A big, hammy, popped-up holiday set, with a slew of duets, featuring guests such as Kelly Clarkson, Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, the gals from Pistol Annies and Shelton's TV co-host, pop vocalist Michael Buble. And he even sings a song with his mother, Dorothy Shackleford... what a nice boy! Mildly over-the-top, but in the way fans of Christmas music revel in. Pretty solid; mostly standards, but also some newer tunes that will freshen up the holiday music repertoire.
Taylor Swift "Red" (Big Machine, 2012)
(Produced by Taylor Swift, Nathan Chapman, Dan Huff, et. al.)
Well, I guess the time has come to stop pretending that Taylor Swift is still some kind of "country" singer... She'll still top the country charts, but she has transcended -- or abandoned -- the genre, and has established herself as a major, generational pop icon. And that's okay: as a celebrity I find her refreshingly down-to-earth and remarkably humble. Good for her. The flipside of that is that the precocious, disarming talent that allowed her as a teen to take the pop world by storm has not (yet) carried her into new songwriting triumphs. It could be argued that Swift's songwriting successes were more about style rather than content: her stream-of-consciousness, teen-girl, torn-from-a-notebook-diary lyrical style was unusual and fresh a few years ago, but now it seems to be limiting her appeal to a very teen, very pop demographic. If I were a thirteen year old fan, I'd find Swift's chatty, he said/she said narratives about meeting some guy at a party to be an intoxicating glimpse into a more "grown up" world, but as a non-partying, adult listener, it all starts to sound the same to me... It's not a world view that I can get much out of, but I do think that Swift has the smarts and the talent to return to country music in the future, and pursue more mature, more universal themes. There's nothing wrong with writing music for kids, or with growing up in public, but for the time being Taylor's music may not have the same appeal for older listeners as it had when she first arrived. For now, she's the voice of the moment, in years to come she may once again become the voice of the future.
Hick Music Index
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