Howdy, neighbors!

Here are some reviews of the new country, bluegrass and Americana records that I had the good fortune to listen to in November, 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: November, 2013
Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys "What A Dream It's Been" (Cow Island Music)
Glen Campbell "See You There" (Surfdog)
Carolina Story "Chapter One" (Stitched Together)
George Ducas "4340" (Loud Ranch)
Heidi Feek "The Only" (Western Pin-Up)
Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion "Wassaic Way" (Route 8)
Ty Herndon "Lies I Told Myself" (FUNL)
Joey & Rory "Made To Last" (Farmhouse)
Joe Nichols "Crickets" (Red Bow)
Eddie Rivers "Plain Talkin' Man" (Bismeaux)
Rick Shea "Sweet Bernardine" (Tres Pescadores)
Mike Zito & The Wheel "Gone To Texas" (Ruf Records)

New Stuff: November, 2013

Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys "What A Dream It's Been" (Cow Island Music, 2013)
(Produced by D. E. Hannigan)

Southern California hillbilly swing revivalist Robert Williams (aka Big Sandy) has tried his hand at a variety of styles, delving deep into rockabilly, pre-rock hillbilly boogie and '50s-style rock ballads... But it's safe to say he's never been quite as diverse as on this excellent new album, a celebration of the band's 25th anniversary where he revisits old songs with fun new arrangements. It kicks off with a sweet and surprising acoustic reggae tune in the classic rock-steady style ("Baby Baby Me") which gives a sense of just how talented and how relaxed his band can be... Other gems include a funky, '60s-sounding rhythmic rocker, "Missouri Gal," and a breezy rendition of "Parts Unknown." These are songs drawn from Big Sandy's old back catalogue, all given original new arrangements and played with real vibrancy and joy, as well as a laid-back vibe that gives you the powerful feeling that you're just hanging out with the the band while they jam in someone's living room... Sandy and his crew have nothing to prove, but once again they assert themselves as one of the best, most versatile and most entertaining bands on the American retro-billy scene... Fans have a lot to cheer about on this one!

Glen Campbell "See You There" (Surfdog, 2013)

Carolina Story "Chapter One" (Stitched Together, 2013) (MP3)
(Produced by Blake Chancey)

The husband-wife duo of Ben and Emily Roberts have crafted an elegant 6-song EP of classic country-flavored, folk-tinged melodic Americana, rich and resonant with banjo, mandolin, lots of pedal steel guitar and -- most importantly -- the kind of tightly meshed vocal harmonies that musicians in love with each other seem to excel at. Fans of the Bruce Robison/Kelly Willis team will find a lot to cheer about here, with catchy, twangy hooks and yearning, heartfelt lyrics. The first time around you may be surprised this album's so short, but there's something to be said for concision: this is a fine record, and every song's worth a whirl. Recommended!

George Ducas "4340" (Loud Ranch, 2013)
I hate to say it, but this record -- the first from Ducas in years -- was a big disappointment. And I'm a big George Ducas fan: in the prefab world of 1990's Nashville, he was an avatar of inventive, assertive neotraditionalism, a reassuringly robust honkytonker with a modern sensibility. Twenty years later, he seems to have lost faith in his original muse, choosing instead to bang out a loud, aggressive, rock-tinged modern stuff in a bid to keep up with the current crop of beefy-teed, empty-headed, flash-in-the-pan country stars of the moment. It's possible that the folks who are into dudes like Big & Rich, Luke Bryan or Eric Church might also enjoy this -- pop open a sixpack and crank it up loud, whatever. But my DNA doesn't allow me to go down that road... I miss the older (well, actually the younger) George Ducas, the guy who thumbed his nose at by-the-numbers musicmaking and held the line for a little true twang and soul. Oh, well. Other Ducas fans will want to check it out anyway, and see if maybe this brash new album resonates more for them than it did for me.

Heidi Feek "The Only" (Western Pin-Up Records, 2013)
(Produced by Heidi Feek & Rory Feek)

This is the debut album from singer Heidi Feek, daughter of the roots-country duo of Joey & Rory Feek... and while her parents pursue a harmony-rich, Dolly Parton-esque neotrad sound, the younger Feek is a rocker, albeit in the mellower adult-alt style, with a faint, Chris Isaak-y rockabilly tinge. The album opens with the bluesy grunge of "I Like The Way," which brings the roots-rock of Buddy Miller to mind, while echoes of Lone Justice's Maria McKee, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Neko Case and other moody alt-country gals are in their as well, particularly the legacy of the windswept, shimmering Cowboy Junkies sound. It's not really my cup of tea, but it's an impressive debut, and one that I'm sure will quickly find a loyal audience for this young new artist.

Sarah Lee Guthrie & Johnny Irion "Wassaic Way" (Route 8, 2013)

Ty Herndon "Lies I Told Myself" (FUNL, 2013)
No big surprises on this indie release from '90s Top Forty singer Ty Herndon -- the songs are still bombastic, the production still generic and emotionally artificial. Sounds like he's getting a little long in the tooth, but he can still pull this stuff off. His fans'll be happy to hear him back in a saddle.

Joey & Rory "Made To Last" (Farmhouse, 2013)

Joe Nichols "Crickets" (Red Bow, 2013)

Julie Roberts "Good Wine And Bad Decisions" (Tres Pescadores, 2013)
Richly textured country-soul, ala Dusty Springfield and Bobbie Gentry, with Roberts following her own muse amid a fickle music industry... It's a classy, ballad-oriented sound that doesn't succumb to the same rock'n'roll temptations as, say Shelby Lynne... Worth a spin!

Eddie Rivers "Plain Talkin' Man" (Bismeaux, 2013)
A solo set from the masterful pedal steel player for Asleep At The Wheel... There are some familiar-sounding vocal numbers along with several groovy instrumentals... Fans of the classic Wheel sound, and of fancy steel playing will wanna check this one out.

Rick Shea "Sweet Bernardine" (Tres Pescadores, 2013)

Mike Zito & The Wheel "Gone To Texas" (Ruf Records, 2013)
This is a little more blues-oriented than what I'm usually write about, but there's also a funky, rootsy undercurrent that's pretty Little Feat-y and might be of interest to a few of you all out there... Pretty good if you like the style!

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