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CD REVIEWS - AMERICANA MUSIC TIMES CD FIREPOWER!
by Keith Howerton and Steve Circeo
THE AMERICANA MUSIC TIMES FIREPOWER SCALE
Killer Bullseye On Target Just Misses Small Calibre Misfire
See reviews from 2008 2007
Glambilly - Cavalier BehaviorCD Review - 6 bulletsGlambilly – Cavalier Behavior
Glambilly's Cavalier Behavior is, simply put, the best album I've heard in the past five years. [FULL DISCLOSURE: I did the album art for the record, but I did it for no pay and only after I had listened to a pre-release and decided this is one great record.] From the off-beat weirdness of the spoken-word intro to the in-your-face reality check of the album's coda, "Paid to Party", Hans Frank and Glambilly give us a view of life's seedy underside, but they somehow make it fun. Guitarist Danny Aaron's vocoder on "Dead Beat Dads (Need Love Too)" never fails to bring a smile to my face, and the answering machine message in the middle of "How I Got To Texas" is a crackup. And don't overlook track 13, "Doin' All The Things", which is sure to be an anthem at high school reunions around the country! It's not all fun and games, though. Hans' best 10 City Run songs were the dark ones, and tunes like "No One Calling" and "In Love With A Ghost" take us to emotional places most of us have visited, but would probably like to forget. 10 City Run's former frontman Hans Frank continues to reinvent himself at every turn, and I, for one, cannot wait to see where the next turn takes us, because this is one thrilling ride! (SC)
BettySoo - Heat Sin Water SkinCD Review - 4 bulletsBettySoo – Heat Sin Water Skin
BettySoo has a lot going for her artistically. First, she has a nice sense of melody. Second, she has a consistent ability to turn a phrase. Third, her voice is just plain sweet. Songs like "Just Another Lover," "Whisper My Name," and "Get Clean" show how BettySoo can shine. "What We've Got" and "Who Knows" prove she deserves to be in the discussion about the best songwriters around. Producer Gurf Morlix puts a laidback spin on the tunes, generally letting BettySoo's songs and voice push the production, rather than the other way around. All in all, Heat Sin Water Skin is a beautifully satisfying project from this 2008 Kerrville New Folk winner. In fact, this record sent me to Amazon looking for more. (SC)
The Boxmasters - ModbillyCD Review - 2 bulletsThe Boxmasters – Modbilly
I was pleasantly surprised by the first Boxmasters album, so I was looking forward to checking out Modbilly. Surprised again -- only this time not so pleasantly. Seems like Billy Bob Thornton and his boys got a bit slicker with this production. While the music still sounds rather indie, CD 1 of this set, which comprises original songs, sadly misses the mark established by The Boxmasters, although it does contain some cute songs like "I Don't Wanna Know," and some edgy ones, like "That's Why Tammy Has My Car." My favorite is the final tune, "I Never Let You Cry," which is Thornton at his best. CD 2, which is all covers, is also a mixed bag, including quite a nice adaptation the Stones' "As Tears Go By," but also a version of Michael Nesmith's "Joanne" that robs the tune of the original's soul. There's a swell version of The Turtles' "Elenore," but a why-bother cover of "Gentle On My Mind." Many people will probably find this album quite listenable, but the for-love-of-the-music feeling that permeated The Boxmasters is mostly missing from Modbilly. And that's just a damn shame. (SC)
Grant Peeples - PawnshopCD Review - 4 bulletsGrant Peeples – Pawnshop
Make no mistake about it: Grant Peeples is a poet. Putting his poetry to music definitely makes it more accessible to more people, and that's important for any artist. Sometimes, though, Pawnshop, which is a wonderful collection of poems about real America, seems to try to get too musical, instead of letting the poetry shine through. Only sometimes, thankfully. Songs like "The Saddest Thing," "There's a Bluebird in My Heart," and the title track paint vivid pictures of a our fragile human condition and you can head to the album's final three tracks for my favorite songblock. It begins with the lone cover tune, Frank Graham's "Better Jobs Down In Richmond" and ends with the rousing "Jesus Was a Revolutionary," with a duet (with Carrie Hamby) called "The Hanging" sandwiched between. Beautiful songs, beautifully produced. (SC)
Wilco - The AlbumCD Review - 6 bulletsWilco – Wilco (The Album)
There is reason that many call Wilco the modern Beatles. First, they have use of tone that is Beatlish, Second, Jeff Tweedy’s vocals are a blend of McCartney, Lennon, and a bit of Harrison all mixed together. Third…they are simply that good. Many can call that blasphemy, but the truth sometimes hurts. Wilco (The Album) is sort of a blend of all the other Wilco records kind of rolled into one. The record is different while being similar. Strange how Wilco does that with ease while other bands just try to be different every record. In reality, Wilco is in a league of their own and Wilco (The Album) is clear proof. Check out "Wilco (The Song)" as the first track. The satire of this band is delightful. (KH)
Brian Ledford - Truth and LoveCD Review - 4 bulletsBrian Ledford – Truth and Love
Ledford has a unique voice that is a welcome pitch in Americana music. His tone is a bit higher than most but he pulls it off nicely. Truth and Love is a record that has some great blends of good guitar rhythms combined with some very nice horns on a couple of tracks. On others the CD gets downright cosmic in a 60s sort of way. Other tracks have a 70s rock vibe to them. The most notable tunes are “Marooned” and “Judging from a Safe Distance.” If there is any criticism here, it is that a couple of songs drag on and are kind of too cosmic. Other than that this record is a decent listen and anyone will find at least one song here that will turn them on. (KH)
Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise – Out of the WildernessCD Review - 4 bulletsTom Catmull and the Clerics – Glamour Puss
Tom Catmull and the Clerics might be one of Montana’s favorite bands, but they should be one of the country’s favorites as well. Glamour Puss is a nicely done record with blends of roots, rockabilly, and rock all constructed into a great project that is a pleasant surprise to the listener who has likely never heard of these guys. The record rolls smoothly from tunes that are different from each other in style and substance. One tune may sound like the Old 97s and another might sound like something Roger Clyne would do. It is a sure bet these guys spend lots of time listening to lots of good tunes on those long Montana winter nights. This record was a welcome pleasant surprise. (KH)
Cutaway Crossing – This ExitCD Review - 2 bulletsCutaway Crossing – This Exit
This CD is a failed attempt to take “Red Dirt” into Kansas. For those who don’t get enough of the good “Red Dirt” music, they can take a listen to This Exit to remind them that there are only a few bands who are doing this style very well in the hundreds that are trying. The songs are not terrible, but the lead vocals are weak and not quite in tune, and the arrangements are nothing that grabs the listener as being different. If you can find this one on a download system someplace find the one song you might like and get it. Other than that, it is a pass. (KH)
Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise – Out of the WildernessCD Review - 6 bulletsRobert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise – Out of the Wilderness
One of the coolest things about being a music critic is getting the CDs. They come in the mail and many are new to us from someone we have never heard of. Most of those are not worth listening to, but once and a while we dump one in the player and our ears are treated to pure magic. Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise Out of the Wilderness is one of those CDs. It is not a surprise that he is well known in the midwest and west coast of the US. It is also no surprise that fellow Detroit citizen Kid Rock has used Robert’s smoky voice on some if his recordings. Out of the Wilderness is a killer record that grooves and vibes from the first note to the last. Robert’s voice has just enough gravel to be delightful and he gives off some nice memories of great past bluesmen like Muddy Waters. Some of Bradley’s music is part of the musical score in the movie Love N’ Dancing to be in theaters summer 2009. Bradley may be blind but his music makes people see. (KH)
Tom Gillam - Play Loud... Dig DeepCD Review - 6 bulletsTom Gillam and Tractor Pull – Play Loud... Dig Deep
I'd been hearing talk of Tom Gillam for the past year or so, but I still would not have caught up with him except for an unfortunate set of circumstances that turned out GREAT as I ended up at my first Tom Gillam and Tractor Pull show. To say I was blown away would put it mildly. Okay, so I can be moody and I was in a bad mood, but Gillam managed to pull me out of my funk so well that I actually PAID FOR this record. I'm so glad I did, because it's been my go-to album since I got it seven weeks ago. The performances here are raw, unretouched, and totally rockin. Songs like "Outside the Lines," "Rainbow Girl," and "Dallas" make it difficult not to sing along. "Rescue Me" and "Devil in My Heart," um, same thing. Well, shit, I guess this whole record just grabs you start to finish. Go to a Tom Gillam live show and buy this record. Do it. NOW! (SC)
Curtis Salgado – Clean GetawayCD Review - 5 bulletsCurtis Salgado – Clean Getaway
A top flight blues record by the man who inspired the character of Jake Blues (John Belushi) in the movie Blues Brothers. Salgado’s vocals and harp work on the record are superb, and the collaborations are a “who’s who” of the blues world. Clay McClinton (Delbert’s son), Al Green, Eric Clapton, and Salgado himself are just a few of the credit names associated with the lyrics. The arrangements are wonderful for any blues or R&B fan. Salgado has earned great critical praise from the Blues Music Association with the song “20 years of BB King,” and that song alone makes the CD worth keeping. Salgado has been in the blues scene for many years, but with records like Clean Getaway his ascendency to blues royalty is on the right path. This is a great record. (KH)
Michael K. Burke and the Honkytonk Witchdoctors – We Got Twang If You Want ItCD Review - 5 bulletsMichael K. Burke and the Honkytonk Witchdoctors – We Got Twang If You Want It
This is one of my favorite albums so far this year. I've always felt that rhyming is overrated, and I dig that Burke treats it as preferred but not required. The vocal and musical styles are varied here, and there are even a couple swing tunes, plus yodeling -- and I still like those songs! Go figure. It really all boils down to Burke's engaging songwriting and downright charismatic vocal stylings. My favorite tune is "I Won't Be Saying Goodbye," which reminds me of old Glen Campbell, but better. All in all this is a totally enjoyable record. (SC)
Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm – 2 Man Wrecking CrewCD Review - 5 bulletsCedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm – 2 Man Wrecking Crew
This record funks, jukes, and grooves like a 56 Chevy rolling down the chitlin’ road on its way to a backwater blues gig. Malcolm’s smoking guitars throughout the record will satisfy the toughest of blues, R&B, and funk critics. Burnside is the drummer of the duo and delivers great beats that add the soul to Malcolm’s guitar work. The delta influence on the duo cannot be understated. It is part of every song on the record but in a more modern and contemporary way. The blend is simply masterful. Burnside’s lead vocals as a drummer are in the tradition of Doyle Bramhall, and that is not bad company in our view. If you like your blues funked up with some good Mississippi Delta jive, then Ced Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm’s 2 Man Wreaking Crew is a CD you really want to check out. (KH)
Slaid Cleaves – Everything You Love Will Be Taken AwayCD Review - 5 bulletsSlaid Cleaves – Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away
Slaid's back with his first album of original music since 2004's Wishbones, and sliding into these tunes is like slipping on a favorite slipper. Cleaves is not breaking any new ground here, but, quite honestly, he doesn't have to. The songwriting is solid, with several cowrites with powerhouses like of Adam Carroll and Rod Picott, and Slaid's voice is as cool as a May morning in Maine. "Beyond Love" is so beautifully arranged and performed that it may move you to tears. "Cry," which includes the album's title in the lyrics, will remind you why you feel a little less fulfilled every year Cleaves does not release a new album. Please, Slaid, don't make us wait so long for the next one! (SC)
Ted Russell Kamp – Poor Man’s ParadiseCD Review - 5 bulletsTed Russell Kamp – Poor Man’s Paradise
Americana standout Ted Russell Kamp has given the Americana world a treasure in his latest release Poor Man’s Paradise. Kamp’s California brand of American music comes through strong and clear on the CD. The CD is already doing will on the Americana airplay charts, which is proof that Americana program directors are the only guys in radio with any taste. Notable tracks on the CD are “Just Go South,” “Long Distance Man,” “Let the Rain Fall Down,” “Dixie,” and “Ballad of that Guy.” Kamp is the long time bass player for Shooter Jennings, but Poor Man’s Paradise is proof that he is a solo artist of tremendous talent, as well as, being a great sideman. His unique blend of a “Deadhead” jam sound with well-written songs is like nothing else being recorded. Everyone should turn on to Ted Russell Kamp. (KH)
Gordie Tentrees - Mercy or SinCD Review - 5 bulletsGordie Tentrees – Mercy or Sin
I sure wish I'd discovered Canadian Gordi Tentrees sooner, but, as they say, better late than never. Tentrees hits another home run with his new record, Mercy or Sin. Tentrees has a way of writing and performing that just oozes, as Stephen Colbert may say, truthiness. Maybe it's the banjo and dobro, maybe it's the gristly vocal style. I think it's all that, plus Tentrees's ability to capture the human condition in his songwriting. With songs like "No Integrity Man" and "Traveling Song Man" there it is -- beautifully composed and performed songs, no metaphors needed -- and the cover of Bert Jansch's "Rambling's Gonna Be the Death of Me," complete with wailing strings on the chorus, knocks me flat out. Dig deep and you will dig deeply, or just grab a cool one, sit back, relax, and enjoy. (SC)
Goodbye to Pretty – Goodbye to PrettyCD Review - 4 bulletsGoodbye to Pretty – Goodbye to Pretty
Goodbye to Pretty’s self titled release is a cool indie rock record that has the elements that make the California indie rock scene where much of the current good stuff is coming from. The record is reminiscent of Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers and has the vibe of an Americana rock record. Good rhythms, back beats, and lyrics are the trademark sound of the band. The clear stand out track on the record is a tune called “Slave.” The song could be a hit on anybody’s record and is a killer tune. Another notable track is called “B&B.” This track has sort of a “Counting Crows” influence in it. In all Goodbye to Pretty is worth checking out if you like the rock side of Americana like Roger Clyne, Wilco, or Son Volt. There are so many great bands in that vein and Goodbye to Pretty can be added to that list. (KH)
Jason Ricci and New Blood – Done with the DevilCD Review - 4 bulletsJason Ricci and New Blood – Done with the Devil
This record is only for folks who like their beats fast and their harp slick. It truly is a “rock harp” record, which seems like an oxymoron. However, it is done well and will have you hooked by the end. Ricci is one of the best harp players in the world and he has a good voice to match the parts when he is not blowing on the mouth piano. Back up by his killer band “New Blood,” Ricci delivers a very cool blues rock record that is as different as it is good. It is good to see guys like Ricci are venturing outside the norm and making music that pushes the edge of the norm. That is what music is all about. (KH)
Yarn - Empty PocketsCD Review - 4 bulletsYarn – Empty Pockets
Yarn’s Empty Pockets is pure roots and very cool. The CD is part country, part bluegrass, part folk, part hillbilly, and all good. This record us what Americana music is all about. It can’t be categorized into one place to it has to cross many and that is the definition of Americana at the its core. Empty Pockets is a very cool record with great melody, vocals, harmonies, and mandolin work. It is from the softer side of Americana but the songwriting and arrangements make it well worth it. A very well done record. (KH)
Patty Finney - Midnight RadioCD Review - 4 bulletsPatty Finney – Midnight Radio
Terrible album cover, but a pretty darn good record. Finney's voice is made for jazz, but she obviously feels at home with country, so the finals sound is an ear-pleasing hybrid. Maybe I'm getting old, but the album starts out with a swing tune, "Ride That Swing," and I found myself instantly interested. "Lady Bird Waltz," which is melodically beautiful, could be a great song, if only the lyric were not so focused on describing the titular historical figure. "The Midnight Train" finds a cool groove and holds it. "I Want You To Call" is blues-jazzy and gourgeous. This is a fine mellow offering from one of the best crooners I've heard in a while. (SC)
Tom Houston Orchestra - Tuxedo CountryCD Review - 3 bulletsTom Houston Orchestra – Tuxedo Country
Let me be clear: It's not like there's anything wrong with these reworks of "Twenty Classic Instrumentals" (the album's subtitle); it's just that I have no use for them. Some wonderful tunes are covered here -- including "Crazy," "Cold, Cold Heart," and "San Antonio Rose" -- in well-arranged and performed big band arrangements, so if you're looking for a great record for swing night at the senior center, this is the CD for you. (SC)
Paul Wesley – When I Let GoCD Review - 2 bulletsPaul Wesley – When I Let Go
Paul Wesley’s When I Let Go is an average pop style record that does not have much that grabs the interest of the listener. It is almost as if the record tries to be alternative in a cool way, but just does not get there with coherence. The vocals are decent and the music is OK, but the arrangements don’t have any real hooks lyrically or musically. The CD leaves you with nothing when it is over that sticks to the memory. This one is best if passed. (KH)
David Lutes - Big TopCD Review - 6 bulletsDavid Lutes – Big Top
David Lutes is back — this time without the "Plumtucker" moniker — and he's stronger than ever with Big Top. From the haunting "Lucia's Song" through the beautiful "The Night Watchman" the listener is treated to one aural feast after another on this two-disk set. My favorite tune is "Coming Apart," which sounds deeply personal as the artist struggles with the conflicts of life, love, and the music he lives for. The lyrics on Big Top are gourgeously poetic, the melodies are richly original, and David's voice is, as usual, simply stunning. The production on this record is deeply layered, and if you listen closely, you will find yourself quite often wondering "how'd they make that sound?" Listen and wonder as Big Top spins you to new levels of musical pleasure. (SC)
Stephanie Briggs - Birds Barely Know UsCD Review - 5 bulletsStephanie Briggs – Birds Barely Know Us
I was an early and active supporter of Stephanie's first solo release, 2007's Spark, so I was tingling (yes, tingling) with anticipation, when Birds Barely Know Us hit my mailbox. And it didn't take me long to figure out that with Birds, Briggs shifts her status from pop princess to rock goddess. The difference is primarily in the volume of her voice relative to the backing instrumentation. While Spark kept Stephanie's vocals up front, Birds tones them down, blending the voice more with the rest of the music. I don't like that as much, but this is a minor annoyance, because the quality of the songwriting here is still up to the high standard set by Spark. "Good Guess," "Mix Tape" (with its wailing Cody Canada guitar solo), and the stripped down "High Five" are the standouts on another strong album from one of Texas's best. (SC)
Brian Clark – Gossip, Inspiration, and SlanderCD Review - 5 bulletsBryan Clark – Gossip, Inspiration, and Slander
If you combined Delbert McClinton with Alan Jackson, you would end up with Bryan Clark. This CD is unique in that it is a two-disk set with the same songs on each disk. One disk is electric and the other softer with roots driven acoustic arrangements to the songs. The novel concept alone makes it worth a few good spins in the CD player. Clark has a country grove that can’t be matched. (KH)
Gordie Tentrees - Bottleneck to WireCD Review - 5 bulletsGordie Tentrees – Bottleneck to Wire
I'm a little late to the game with this 2007 release, but, hey, Gordie's not from 'roundchere and it took a while to filter down. Canadians know country music, much better than many who are called country artists, and Tentrees proves that with this impressive collection of original music. These are songs about life in the real world. "Death & Dust" tells the story of a tragic smalltown killing. "Two Sons" gets inside the head of a mother who must choose which of her sons to save from the tsunami. This album is not a complete journey through the dark side, though. "Fishing Fool" is a lighthearted romp about a guy who likes to fish, and "Bottle Fever" expounds upon the joys of excessive drinking. I'll definitely be on the lookout for more music from Tentrees, because, as he sings in Bottleneck To Wire's title track, "It's a sound I wish I could hear longer." (SC)

Mark Jungers - Whistle ThisCD Review - 5 bulletsMark Jungers and The Whistling Mules – Whistle This
Whistle This is a new release of rather old live recordings — from 2006 at Gruene Hall and 2001 at Cheatham Street Warehouse. Make no mistake, though: This is the good stuff! Jungers and his Whistling Mules sound great singing and playing many of their best songs, like "Conviction," "We Talk," "It Ain't Funny," and their better-than-the-original cover of Jason Ringenberg's "Price of Progress." Wes Green's mandolin is always a pleasure, Adrian Schoolar's lead guitar is a skillful, Josh Flowers's bass is clean and on time. I really dig that Jungers plays without a drummer — the sound is full enough. The tracks from 2001 are interesting, because you can detect the relative youth in Jungers's voice, however many beers and cigarettes ago. Plus, it's nice to hear Dave Ray playing bass on those older tracks, but then, maybe I'm just a "Sentimental Guy." (SC)

Michelle Malone - DebrisCD Review - 4 bulletsMichelle Malone – Debris
There's a lot of treasure to be found in the Debris, the latest release from veteran country rocker Michelle Malone. Songs like the rough and tumble "Undertow," the rockin' "Feather in a Hurricane," the soulful "Marked" and the wistful "14th Street and Mars" are worth the price of admission, while klunkers like "Chattahoochie Boogaloo" and the title track may find you asking for your money back. Even so, this is a solid record that caught my ear the first time through. (SC)
Dallas Wayne – I'll Take The FifthCD Review - 4 bulletsDallas Wayne – I'll Take The Fifth
The ever-popular radio programmer of Outlaw Country on Sirus and XM satellite radio has released a solid country effort with I’ll Take the Fifth. To be sure Dallas is very country in a old school sort of way with that outlaw edge, but this CD is bound to make some toes tap. Notables include the title track, “All Dressed Up”, “Invisible Man”, and “God Only Knows”. Dallas proves with this CD that not only can he program radio stations but can also write a good song. If you like, your country “Outlaw Country” then this CD will not disappoint. There are some great appearances by the likes of Sunny Sweeney, Joel Guzman, Bobby Flores, and Redd Volkaert. (KH)
Bonnie Holmes - Going Down FightingCD Review - 4 bulletsBonny Holmes – Going Down Fighting
You have to love a record that includes a song called "Morphine and Ice Cream," right? Right. Plus there are songs like the title track (which is actually called "Rocking Chair") that let's us know Bonny is "somewhere between going down fighting and resting in my rocking chair." That's a great line on a record that displays some powerful songwriting, as well as some really nice work from a quartet of producers (weirdcool background sounds on "Going Home," for example). Problem is that Bonny's vocal performances aren't as strong as they could be. She seems tentative at the mic, hesitant. The songs are really good, so be confident in that fact and please bring it, Ms. Holmes! (SC)
Jason Heath and the Greedy Souls – The Vain Hope of HorseCD Review - 4 bulletsJason Heath and the Greedy Souls – The Vain Hope of Horse
This is an incredibly interesting record with some very well written songs and arrangements. For Los Angeles based Jason Heath and the Greedy Souls this record is proof that Americana is alive and well on the west coast where it must struggle to survive. The CD has an alternative feel to it than more traditional Americana music, but the songs fit in very nicely. If there is a drawback to The Vain Hope of Horse it would be that the lead vocals are not as strong through every song in the CD as they could or should be. However, the album is a gem if the listener is looking for something different and nice. (KH)
Jason Isbell and the 400 UnitCD Review - 6 bulletsJason Isbell and the 400 Unit – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
The only thing to really say about this record is that it is fantastic. The former Drive By Trucker, and considered by many to be the best songwriter to come from that band, has released another CD that will please critics and fans alike. Isbell is singlehandedly resurrecting the mythology of the “Muscle Shoals” sound that became so famous in the 70s. The CD fits into the rock side of Americana with Wilco, Son Volt, The Old 97s, and other great tour indie Americana/Rock bands. Self produced by the entire band with incredible songs and arrangements that keep the listener coming back for more. This is bound to be one of the best records of 2009. (KH)
Bill Evans & Megan Lynch - Let's Do Something ...CD Review - 6 bulletsBill Evans & Megan Lynch – Let's Do Something...
Whodathunkit? Combine stripped-down instrumentation featuring primarily a banjo with a beautifully expressive female voice and you can produce some immensely wondrous and soul-stirring music. Even on such an outstanding record, there are a couple of standouts, both covers: Danish folkie Teitur Lassen's song of longing "I Was Just Thinking" and Van the Man's "Into the Mystic," which is one of two songs sung by Evans on the record. You have to hear this album to believe it. (SC)
Laura Marie - DrawnCD Review - 5 bulletsLaura Marie – Drawn
Even though the music on Drawn stays true to Laura Marie's fairly lean folk-pop sound, this record sounds huge. But, then, I'm coming to expect that from five-time Grammy-nominated producer Mack Damon — layers, gently understated, easter eggs for the attentive listener. Under Damon's magical aegis, Drawn spins like Laura Marie's coming out party, the start of her solo adventure into the real world. "Ever Since" describes a love that never happened. "Good Enough" talks about a person coming to terms with her own imperfections. "Surface" describes a woman yearning for motherhood. These are mature themes, and Laura's songwriting is strong enough to bring them to life. San Antonio's Laura Marie is a star in the making, and this record, Drawn, has the power to be that starmaker. (SC)
David Grissom - 10,000 FeetCD Review - 5 bulletsDavid Grissom – 10,000 Feet
The legendary guitarist from the band Storyville has a new solo project that delivers what is to be expected. Great guitar work with solid songs and vocals are abundant on this CD. Grissom is likely the most sought after session guitar player in Nashville and works with about everybody in country and Americana music. It is no wonder that standard bearers like Joe Ely, Buddy Guy, John Mellencamp, Montgomery Gentry and others are among his musical associations. Notable tracks on the record are the title track, “Sqwawk,” and “True Love Don’t Work That Way.” This is a great CD and proves that Grisson is not only a prized sideman, but a true creator of fine lyrics and arrangements in his own right. (KH)
James Dunn - The Long Ride HomeCD Review - 5 bulletsJames Dunn – The Long Ride Home
Once and a while a CD comes along from someone you never heard of and it is like finding buried treasure. James Dunn’s The Long Ride Home is one of those CDs. The record is Dunn’s sophomore release and it is bound to make some waves in Americana music. His rich songwriting and compelling voice are reason alone to spin the heck out of this one. This one is a real winner. (KH)
Zack Walther & The Cronkites - AmbitionCD Review - 4 bulletsZack Walther & The Cronkites - Ambition
The first time I listened to this record, I felt the same way I did about my first spin of the Band of Heathens studio record: It's missing something. But, really, how can the energy of either of these dynamic bands be captured in the studio? Second time through, I got over the fact that somehow Zack's voice, that wonderful voice, was buried in the production of the album's first track, "Georgia Cane," — the lone track NOT produced by the brilliant Mark Addison — and was able to hear a pretty well-planned project that really captures the band's pop-rock sound. A cover of Jackson Parten's "Down Easy" is the best song on the record, but three originals near the end — "Mountain Laurel Bloom," "Just Say When," and "Money Tree" — are about as good as a three-song set can get. The record's coda, "Pull the Pin," may have best been left off — but it's much better live so go check these guys out! (SC)
Mike Zito - TodayCD Review - 4 bulletsMike Zito – Today
This CD is about a year old but sometimes things come in that we have to mention. Zito is an Austin bluesman worth noticing. He is making waves all over in blues circles that are unfortunately getting smaller and smaller. Today is a good record with fifteen cool songs that blend Zito’s style of singer-songwriter blues that sometimes is more country than blues. He also has a solid funk groove to his material that would make the most hardened critic smile. The cover of “Little Red Corvette” could have been left on the cutting floor, but other than that this is a solid record and a good one for any blues collection. (KH)
Bo Cox - Rich Man's GoldCD Review - 4 bulletsBo Cox – Rich Man's Gold
Bo Cox's debut effort does its part to help freshen up the Texas Music scene with the country-jazzy "Talkin' With The Devil," but I sure would like it if there were more of that and less of the sound already explored by many other bands 'round here. Having said that, though, I must note that the songwriting here is quite competent and Mike McClure's production, complete with some great guitar work, keep the record very listenable, so if you like your tunes rocky, bluesy, and comfortable, slide this CD into your player and you'll find satisfaction.(SC)
D.C. Bloom - Simpler Times A-Wastin'CD Review - 3 bulletsD.C. Bloom – Simpler Times A-Wastin'
After listening to this album, you may be tempted to write D.C. Bloom off as just a guy who sings cute San Antonio-centric songs like "I Can't Forget The Alamo," his observation of the number of businesses in SATX that share a name, and "Manu Ginobili," his man-love song for the titular Spur. But you would do the man an injustice. Listen carefully to "Small Potatoes" and "Neon Signs" and you will hear beautifully constructed, poignant odes to the human condition. Quite honestly, while the novelty songs are certainly crowdpleasers here in The Alamo City, I wish the wistful D.C. Bloom would make an appearance a bit more often. I'm no fun? Tell me something I don't know. (SC)
Chris Knight - Heart of StoneCD Review - 5 bulletsChris Knight – Heart of Stone
The current king of Americana songwriting has delivered a solid project with his new release called Heart of Stone. The CD is pure Chris Knight with plenty of “blue collar” themed tunes that are Chris’s trademark. Songs about small town Americana and tough times come out in Heart of Stone like a freight train from the Corn Belt. There is no one better at drafting poetry about the rural American lifestyle than Chris Knight and Heart of Stone delightfully true to form. Heart of Stone is a bit more electric than past Knight CDs, but the change is a welcome one. A must have for any true Americana fan. (KH)
The Killdares - Secrets of the DayCD Review - 4 bulletsThe Killdares – Secrets of the Day
A mix of Celtic sounds that land between “Flogging Molleys” and “Dave Matthews”, the Killdares deliver a nice blend of Irish country and rock that is driven with non-traditional sounds from fiddles and bag pipes. This is not a record for the traditional fan, but if you are interested in something different the Killdares just might do the trick. Secrets of the Day is an exceptional sounding and produced project that delivers a high quality of blend of musicianship and instrumentation. It is very nice. (KH)
David Fenley - Pocket Full of DirtCD Review - 5 bulletsDavid Fenley – Pocket Full of Dirt
My first impression of this record was "too twangy." Fact is, it's not too twangy -- it's just twangy enough. Fenley's voice is so full of everything that makes us human that it's a pleasure to listen through the twang. And once I listened, I mean really listened to the album, songs like "Pocket Full of Dirt" and "East Texas Lullaby" convinced me that the sound is exactly where Fenley is coming from. The pop-jazzy "This Day" has been my favorite Fenley song since the first time I saw him perform it, and "If The Beer Stores Closed at Noon" is a nice straight-up country tune. "Music Whore" has a lot of soul fueled by a cool rolling guitar and an almost frenetic vocal performance. Little touches, like the a perfectly understated harmony vocal on "The Way You Look Tonight" and a sneaky-smoove violin on "Again" show, once again, that producer Mack Damon is one of the best in the business, but it's evident that Damon knows it's always Fenley's voice that sells the song. (SC)
Bourgeois Gypsies - Faulty Fairytales ...CD Review - 5 bulletsBourgeois Gypsies – Faulty Fairytales...
This is the good stuff. Kaisa MacDonald and Arnold Mitchem share leadsinger duties, creating an interesting diversity among the songs on the Faulty Fairytales. MacDonald's voice is not what you'd traditionally call beautiful, but it is melodious in its own right. Mitchem does not so much sing as simply vocalize, but the sound is thoroughly satisfying. The best triplet on the record starts with the hypnotically dissonant "Train Song," followed by the best song on the record, "Dry Land," where MacDonald's voice blends beautifully with a guitar hook that is coolly accomplished in it's simplicity, and completed with "Downieville," a country blues tune complete with dobro and a lead vocal that sounds like it was recorded through a tin can. A wonderful, interesting, entertaining album. (SC)
Byron Hill - Stay a WhileCD Review - 4 bulletsByron Hill – Stay a While
This is pure, soulful country music from a guy who's been writing and performing it for years. While some of the lyrics are very clever and enjoyable, like "You Ain't Chet Yet" and "Blame It on Kristofferson," there are times when the lyrics fall short, like "Life's a Ditch," which, in its economic, if not artistic, defense, sounds like it could fit well on a Rascal Flatts record. All in all, the simple instrumentation combined with Hill's smooth vocal performances make for a very enjoyable CD. (SC)
Voices of a Grateful NationCD Review - 4 bulletsVarious Artists – Voices of a Grateful Nation
Del Castillo, The Band of Heathens, Brandon Rhyder, Guitar Shorty, Charlie Sexton, and many, many more combine to a collection of 34 songs on a two CD set supporting America’s troops. The cause alone is worth recognizing but the music is not bad either. There 34 songs on two CDs make the compilation a good value. Additionally, there are duets, collaborations, and combinations that can be heard here and not on any other recordings. A great project recorded by artists who are showing support by giving something of their art for something worthwhile. (KH)
Musicfest Tribute to Robert Earl KeenCD Review - 3 bulletsVarious Artists – Undone, A MusicFest Tribute to Robert Earl Keen
A live two CD set of Robert Earl Keen songs recorded live and acoustically at the Steamboat MusicFest in 2008. This compilation is a great concept and a great cause in that a tribute to Robert Earl Keen is truly fitting and all the proceeds go to The Center for Texas Music History at Texas State University. However, there is a truism in music by Robert Earl Keen and that is that only he does his own songs really well. Maybe Joe Ely with "The Road Goes on Forever" can come close to getting to where Robert brings the song, but that is about it. Undone is novel and unique and for the people who were there for the live recording it was likely magical, but as a record it is lacking for true performance and audio value. It likely would have been a better DVD than live record. That being said there are some standout performances on the CD and that combined with the cause alone makes it worth picking up. (KH)
Fingerpistol - Young and BeautifulCD Review - 5 bulletsFingerpistol - Young and Beautiful
A smooth country sound flows from the speakers as you spin this disk. Lead singer and songwriter Dan Hardick's lyrics keep the vibe grounded, even as you are swept away by the beautiful melodies, made all the more luscious by Suzee Brooks' harmonies. Songs like the lead track "Goodbye, Marie" and "Sadness and Pain" invoke a smiling sadness, while others like "Rescue" and "Medicine" bring the melancholy full on. Sure, there are some cool, happier tunes on the record, but I lean toward the dark side. Dig it. (SC)
The Refugees - UnboundCD Review - 3 bulletsThe Refugees - Unbound
Cindy Bullens, Deborah Holland, and Wendy Waldman are The Refugees. As you may imagine, then, the harmonies are gorgeous, the production is superbly understated, and much of the songwriting is very accomplished. Bullens' "Jellico Highway" has been a favorite of mine since the first time I heard it a few years back (it's remade for this record), but I have to admit that I quickly bored of what sounds like the same song over and over. Notable exceptions are the acoustic rocker "Stickin' With My Baby's Love" and the almost a capella version of the Vanessa Williams hit -- which Waldman cowrote -- "Save the Best for Last." Some great stuff here, but what's not great is just good background music. (SC)
James Michael TaylorCD Review - 6 bulletsJames Michael Taylor - Red Dirt Diary
Brilliant, interesting, homespun stories set to music. The styles are varied with purpose. For example, the opener, "Okie Doky," is a corny country tune about being from Oklahoma, while the next song, "In Dubious Battle," brings to mind the early work of indie weirdos Lol Creme and Kevin Godley, and that flows into "A Good Cry," which is one of the most touchingly tender songs I've ever heard. As the title implies, Diary really is the private tale of a man's life. Pick this album up, if you can find it -- you may have to track JMT down to get a copy. (SC)
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