Here are some reviews of the new country, bluegrass and Americana records that I had the good fortune to listen to in July, 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: July, 2013
Big Country Bluegrass "Memories Of The Past" (Rebel)
Jason Boland "Dark And Dirty Mile" (Proud Souls)
Marshall Chapman "Blaze Of Glory" (Tall Girl)
Joe Diffie/Sammy Kershaw/Aaron Tippin "All In The Same Boat" (Big Hit)
Casey Donahew "Standoff" (Almost Country)
Jason Isbell "Southeastern" (Southeastern Records)
Joey + Rory "Inspired: Songs Of Faith And Family" (Spring House)
Elizabeth Lyons "Elizabeth Lyons (EP)" (Roar Records)
Delbert McClinton & Glen Clark "Blind, Crippled & Crazy" (New West)
John Moreland "In The Throes" (Last Chance)
Aoife O'Donovan "Fossils" (Yep Roc)
Poco "All Fired Up" (Drifter's Church)
John Prine "The Missing Years" (vinyl reissue) (Oh Boy!)
Randy Rogers Band "Trouble" (MCA Nashville)
Caitlin Rose "The Stand-In" (ATO)
Shannon & Heather Slaughter "County Clare" (Elite Circuit)
Eddie Spaghetti "The Value Of Nothing" (Bloodshot)
Big Country Bluegrass "Memories Of The Past" (Rebel, 2013)
(Produced by Tommy Sells & Big Country Bluegrass)
A great set of rock-solid, true-blue, old-school bluegrass, with hot picking, tight vocal harmonies and great material. Tommy and Teresa Sells are the core of this long-lived Virginia ensemble, joined here by lead singer Eddie Gill and banjoist Lynwood Lunsford, who all certainly pull their weight... and then some. This mostly-secular set has the kind of sizzle and sincerity we look for in traditionally oriented truegrass, the immediacy and simplicity that can still give you a little tingle when you hear it done right... like on this record! Give her a spin, and you'll see what I mean.
Jason Boland "Dark And Dirty Mile" (Proud Souls, 2013)
Marshall Chapman "Blaze Of Glory" (Tall Girl, 2013)
Joe Diffie/Sammy Kershaw/Aaron Tippin "All In The Same Boat" (Big Hit Records, 2013)
Casey Donahew "Standoff" (Almost Country, 2013)
(Produced by Casey Donahew)
A romping, rocking set of electrified bar-band country -- a little too clangy and rock'n'roll for me, but good stuff nonetheless... Donahew is one of the new generation of "red dirt" Panhandle twangsters who are breathing new life into country music -- the vitality and kickass attitude of the '70s outlaws is back, and Donahew's sharp wit puts him at the lead to the pack. My favorite tracks off here are a pair of Brad Paisley-style novelty songs, "Loser" (which lampoons the neo-redneck crowd) and the album's hilarious closer, "Go To Hell," which is one of the best angry, vindictive drunken breakup songs ever recorded. Fun stuff!
Jason Isbell "Southeastern" (Southeastern Records, 2013)
Jason Isbell, formerly of the Drive-By Truckers, went solo in 2007 and also apparently at some point went into rehab. This is a deeply affecting and beautifully constructed album, with a much lighter, more melodic, poppy touch than one might have anticipated from his Trucker days. One of the more thoughtful and penetrating Americana albums of recent yeas. Definitely worth a spin.
Joey + Rory "Inspired: Songs Of Faith And Family" (Gaither/Spring House, 2013)
Elizabeth Lyons "Elizabeth Lyons (EP)" (Roar Records, 2012)
(Produced by Matt Nolen)
Independently produced would-be Top 40 country, the kind of stuff that crosses so far over into mainstream pop that you have to listen kind of hard to hear the twang. Although the music is pretty generic, it's worth noting that Lyons wrote all the songs, and may have as much promise as a composer as she shows as a singer. A lot of this sounds like stuff you've heard before, though one of her uptempo numbers caught my attention, the catchy, energetic "Fighting Over Me," a girlish, poppy song about a gal who enjoys the boys making a fuss over her. So did the similarly-themed "Boys In Every Zip Code," although the second song's lyrics felt shallow rather than frisky and fun. I dunno; I guess it's possible she could make it in Nashville... Only time will tell!
Delbert McClinton & Glen Clark "Blind, Crippled & Crazy" (New West, 2013)
(Produced by Glen Clark, Delbert McClinton & Gary Nicholson)
These two old coots have been making music together for a long, long time... Their "Delbert & Glen" albums of the 1970s were touchstones of the '70s roadhouse blues-country scene, and their powers remain undiminished in the dawn of the 21st Century. This disc is packed with heavy, chunky blues beats and lyrics that are both witty and reflective: there's a funny paradox of these grizzled veterans of a thousand-thousand parties still writing songs about partying down while also tempering their good-time lyrics with hard-won reflections about age and aging. Long story short, though: if you dig Delbert McClinton and know how great his most recent records have been, then you'll love this one, too. It's a gas.
John Moreland "In The Throes" (Last Chance, 2013)
Moody, rootsy singer-songwriter roots-rock, along the lines of artists like Dave Alvin or Chris Knight... Moreland has a raspy, Springsteen-ish voice and a magnetic presence that holds your attention. The songs are all kind of a downer, in a Lucinda Williams-ish way, but there's no shortage of gloom junkies out there, and if that's the case, this album might be just right for you.
Aoife O'Donovan "Fossils" (Yep Roc, 2013)
A solo from the alt-old timey stringband, Crooked Still, going out into poppy, artsy territory, similar to that of Sarah Jarosz and Chris Thile...
Poco "All Fired Up" (Drifter's Church, 2013)
I have to admit, I was surprised by the strength of this album from these former '70s chart-toppers... Yeah, there's a certain old-dude dorkiness quotient at play, but there are also songs here that stick to your ribs and riffs that will echo around in your head. I dunno, there's something nice about these DIY albums from folks whose hit-making days are long past -- you can tell they really just want to play music, and plus, it's not like they forgot how to craft a good song. This is probably really just a for-fans-only album, but if you are an old Poco fan, I think you'll be pleased. My picks here would be the topical tune, "Hard Country," about tough times in the heartland... Their homage, "Neil Young," about getting bitten by the rock'n'country bug bank in the day, is also kind of funny and fun. Worth a spin!
John Prine "The Missing Years" (Oh Boy, 1992/2013) (LP)
(Produced by Howie Epstein)
Originally put out during the early years of the digital invasion, John Prine's whimsical Missing Years album actually was never released on vinyl... (!) ...until now, that is! Just for the heck of it, Prine's label is reissuing his Grammy-winning 1991 album as a 2-LP set, with a bonus track, "The Third Of July," which was left off the original album, and is only available here, on the vinyl edition.
Randy Rogers Band "Trouble" (MCA Nashville, 2013)
Caitlin Rose "The Stand-In" (ATO, 2013)
Shannon & Heather Slaughter "County Clare" (Elite Circuit, 2013)
(Produced by Wes Easter, Shannon Slaughter & Heather Slaughter)
The second "solo" album by guitarist Shannon Slaughter, joined this time by his wife Heather and their band, County Clare. Its modern bluegrass with a traditional feel and contemporary themes... Perhaps the most notable track on here is also the most controversial, the anti-abortion weeper, "They Never Got The Chance," in which the lost accomplishments of unborn babies are mourned, as are the choices of naive almost-mothers who were too quick to pull the plug. Heather Slaughter tries really hard to sound evenhanded and thoughtful on this one -- even grudgingly inserting a line about how the folks at the clinics give some, meagre advice to these women before performing the procedure -- but in its essence this is a condescending and judgmental narrative, sure to stir the emotions of right-to-life listeners, but unlikely to persuade others. There are also interesting cover tunes, such as a version of "If I Were A Carpenter" and Rodney Crowell's "Even Cowgirls Get The Blues," along with a mix of secular and gospel material, including a bunch of original tunes from the Slaughters and their band. These guys were okay, though I found the abortion song to be kind of a turn-off.
Eddie Spaghetti "The Value Of Nothing" (Bloodshot, 2013)
Hick Music Index