Howdy, neighbors!

Pity party at my place: for some people it's Michael Jackson, or Selena, or Tupac... Me, I've got a big old pile of George Jones records out on the floor and I'm blasting "Why Baby Why" out the windows at my place and all the neighbors are looking at me funny. Come on by! Sad news last month as George Jones, the worlds greatest country singer, passed away after several years in poor health. (By the way, there's a great obituary on The New York Times website, courtesy of Jon Pareles.) Rest in peace, George: you made some really great music.

On a lighter note: Americana cult fave Sam Baker (an artist I really like) just launched a kickstarter campaign to get his next album off the ground. If you're not familiar with his work, he really is a gifted songwriter and soulful performer, and deserving of your interest... Can't wait to hear what the new record will sound like!

Back to business, now... Howdy, folks! Here are some reviews of the new country, bluegrass and Americana records that I had the good fortune to listen to in May, 2013. 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: May, 2013
Trace Adkins "Love Will..." (Show Dog)
The Bills "Yes, Please" (Red House)
Kenny Chesney "Life On A Rock" (Columbia)
Dailey & Vincent "Brothers Of The Highway" (Rounder)
Alan Jackson "Precious Memories, v.2" (EMI)
Lady Antebellum "Golden" (Capitol)
Steve Martin & Edie Brickell "Love Has Come For You" (Rounder)
Mark Newton & Steve Thomas "Reborn" (Pinecastle)
Pistol Annies "Annie Up" (Sony Nashville)
Bobby G. Rice "Down In Texas" (Heart Of Texas)
Don Rigsby "The Mountain Doctor" (Rebel)
Leann Rimes "Spitfire" (Curb)
George Strait "Love Is Everything" (MCA-Nashville)

New Stuff: May, 2013

Trace Adkins "Love Will..." (Show Dog-Universal, 2013)
Wow, did he really do a cover of Exile's old '70s hit, "Kiss You All Over"? Why, yes he did. And that pretty much sums up this album. Over-produced and very distant from his semi-twangy roots... Adkins seems to have decided to specialize in mellow, chick-friendly ballads and other romantic, sensitive-guy stuff. And that's okay -- he's a really big, tough guy in real life and this is a good direction for him. I mean, I personally don't want to listen to this stuff, but then again the world also doesn't really need more phony-baloney macho pop-country songs about well-armed small towns filled with big trucks and tough-but-loving dads who whupped you when you'd lie, but never missed a single baseball game. I'll take Exile covers any day over that. Plus, Adkins still has a great voice, so more power to him.

Sam Amidon "Bright Sunny South" (Nonesuch, 2013)
An intriguing collection of dreamy re-imaginings of old American rural music and shape-note hymns, drawing on the repertoires of Appalachian musicians... An original modern take on some craggy old music.

The Bills "Yes, Please" (Red House, 2013)

Kenny Chesney "Life On A Rock" (Columbia, 2013)

Dailey & Vincent "Brothers Of The Highway" (Rounder, 2013)

Alan Jackson "Precious Memories, v.2" (EMI, 2013)
When Jackson's first Precious Memories album came out in 2006, it was kind of a sleeper hit -- decent sales for an all-gospel album, driven largely by the weight of Jackson's own considerable celebrity. Over the years, though, it proved to be a huge success, selling over two million copies and providing Jackson with a major late-career hit. He returns to the well here, with a similar set of Southern Gospel-styled religious songs, more tinkly piano and less twangy guitar, and plenty of soulful vocals. The age in his voice is more noticeable now, but this is the kind of music where age and life experience is actually a plus. If you like the first album, you'll probably like this one as well, although it might be a little too "churchy" for many of his more secular-minded fans.

Sarah Jarosz "Live At The Troubadour" (Self-Released, 2013)
Apparently this disc is available through her website, though I've also seen it at my local record hut... More genre-bending Americana brilliance from this wildly creative fiddlin' gal...

Lady Antebellum "Golden" (Capitol, 2013)

Steve Martin & Edie Brickell "Love Has Come For You" (Rounder/40 Share, 2013)
I have been enjoying Steve Martin's recent concentration on his long love of bluegrass music, but I have to confess I was less into this singer-songwriter-y alt-pop/mountain music mashup... Guess I'm just not a huge Edie Brickell fan, but for folks who are, I think this album will count as a gem. Stylistically, it's a cool mix of perspectives, and the integration of banjo and twang into the sleeker pop soundscape isn't at all gimmicky or forced. Worth checking out... It's just not my personal cup of tea. It also inspired me to add a Steve Martin page to my website... just because I can.

Mark Newton & Steve Thomas "Reborn" (Pinecastle, 2013)
(Produced by Mark Newton & Steve Thomas)

A loosely arranged, freewheeling bluegrass session, with Mark Newton on guitar, Thomas on fiddle and mandolin, Scott Vestal on banjo, and Ricky Skaggs sitting in on a version of "The Girl I Left In Tennessee." This album has a distinctly back-porch, jam-session feel -- nice song selection, raggedy vocals, a few goofy, flashy solos -- and less of the polish and sleek perfectionism that's come to dominate modern bluegrass. For some listeners, this informality may be a breath of fresh air, while others may be so used to the airbrushed studio sound of today that this could be hard to get into... But if you're looking for a record that reminds you of all those festival-side picking sessions, you might want to give this one a whirl.

Pistol Annies "Annie Up" (Sony Nashville, 2013)
Hell, yeah! Bad girls make good country... I have to admit, Miranda Lambert kind of lost me on her most recent, rock-tinged album, but her Pistol Annies bandmate Ashley Monroe just came out with one of the sweetest, traditional-sounding (Dolly Parton-esque) country albums of the years, so I am all on board with Annies album #2. Bring it on!

Bobby G. Rice "Down In Texas" (Heart Of Texas, 2012)
I was a little surprised to see this new album by pop-country balladeer Bobby G. Rice, who had a few hits back in the countrypolitan '70s... I haven't heard this one, but I am kinda curious.

Don Rigsby "Doctor's Orders" (Rebel, 2013)
(Produced by Don Rigsby)

A truegrass tribute album with songs written by, for and about bluegrass patriarch Dr. Ralph Stanley... The lead track, "The Mountain Doctor," is a direct homage to Stanley and his music, and Dr. Ralph is among several guest performers, singing tenor on "Home In The Mountains," along with Ricky Skaggs, who harmonizes on baritone. Skaggs is one of several alumni of Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys who perform here, including Larry Sparks, Charlie Sizemore and Stanley's longtime guitarist, James Alan Shelton, who plays on most of the tracks. In the liner notes, Rigsby recounts with awe the time he saw a Ralph Stanley show on his sixth birthday in 1974 and got to meet Stanley, Skaggs and Keith Whitley, who was in the band at the time... And, as it has been for many of us, seeing Stanley play was a mystical experience... Nice that all these years later he gets a chance to repay the favor.

Leann Rimes "Spitfire" (Curb, 2013)
(Produced by Darrell Brown)

I was all set to get all snarky and make a prediction that this isn't going to be her big back-to-basics honkytonk/bluegrass album. But then I actually listened to it and was surprised to find that, indeed, this was her big roots-rock record! Now, I had pretty much given up on Leann Rimes about a decade ago when she went full-on high-tech pop, and figured that was pretty much it for her... But on this new album (which still has a hefty dose of overproduced pop and rock stylings) Rimes dips back into twang, though this time she's in a tough-edged party girl mode, reminiscent of Gretchen Wilson or Miranda Lambert. So, things do change, though naturally not without some controversy... Apparently there are people out there who are utterly scandalized by Rimes having recorded a few raunchy songs recently... Including some folks who don't seem to be aware that she grew up and became a legal adult a couple of decades ago. Oh, well. I say let Leann be Leann... This still isn't my cup of tea, but it's nice to hear her doing some kind of country again.

George Strait "Love Is Everything" (MCA-Nashville, 2013)

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