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Gary AllanGary Allan - Greatest Hits
About a year ago I had the chance to catch Gary Allan play a show here in Oklahoma City. He headlined the show, following a set by the always-reliable Pat Green. I’ve got to say, I hadn’t paid much attention to Allan until that night. I was absolutely blown away by Allan’s emotive, heartfelt songs, and his stellar stage show. I was a fan from that day onward. In the time since then, I’ve purchased nearly every Gary Allan album and have come to familiarize myself with his traditionalist, top-notch body of work. From his raspy, masculine voice to his Bakersfield-esque California country-crooner sound, he reminds me of a cross between Roy Orbison and Chris Isaak. There’s genuineness to his songs that are appealing and undeniable. And since 2005’s incredible Tough All Over, (shockingly ignored by the awards shows), Allan’s label, MCA Nashville, has released his first-ever Greatest Hits collection, featuring 15 great songs. 13 of those tracks are previously released radio hits spanning the past decade though the album also includes two new songs, “As The Crow Flies” and his current hit “A Feelin’ Like That.” In fact, that aforementioned song kicks off Greatest Hits in a major way and with a rush. Just check out this opening verse: I stepped out into the blue/felt the w i n d hit my face/ Before my chute opened I felt my heart race / I was falling / Oh but that’s just falling … And while plummeting to earth may be a thrill, Allan sings that the love of a woman is far, far better and more fulfilling. Indeed. And then there’re Allan’s songs like the tender “Her Man,” from his debut album Used Heart For Sale, to the sad steel guitar and bittersweet lyrics of “Smoke Rings in the Dark.” The big hits are here too, including “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful,” (about his wife’s suicide) to the sexy country pop of “Nothing On But the Radio,” his Blake Shelton-styled song about the joys and excitement of being at home with your woman. I would like to add that the packaging is solid and all the lyrics are included in the promo-photoheavy CD booklet, including a run down of the musicians featured on the two new tracks. Some songs that would’ve rounded out this collection in fine fashion would’ve been the weeper “Don’t Tell Mama” and the spooky “Nickajack Cave (Johnny Cash’s Redemption).” Either way, this is a terrific “best of” collection. It’s only got me excited about Allan’s newest studio offering, expected to be released this fall. (Review by Andrew West Griffin)
Nathan Hamilton - Six Black BirdsNathan Hamilton - Six Black Birds
Nathan Hamilton is not the most prolific of our Texas singer-songwriters. After all, until now, his only other studio release since his 1999 debut, Tuscola, was 2002’s All for Love and Wages. I don’t know if Nathan leaves so much time between records because he is a meticulous craftsman or simply because he doesn’t have the money to sink into a record every two years. Maybe he’s just following the old show biz adage to “leave them wanting more.” Anyway, it was with great anticipation that I unwrapped his latest album, Six Black Birds. I slid it into my CD player and sat back for a listen. Nathan has always gone back and forth easily between the rock and folk camps. He did, you may recall, win the Kerrville New Folk award in 2000. But, as if to erase any doubt about which side of the fence he’s now on, Six Black Birds jumps out of the gate with a straight rocker, “Sooner or Later.” This song displays some beautiful guitar work, and the subtle, but unusual, background instrumentation makes me think that Nathan may be exploring new ground with this record. And he is. The second tune, “Enough,” features strong percussion as the primary musical accompaniment to Nathan’s haunting vocal. “Teeth” then takes us back to straight rock. It has a subtle organ backtrack and gives us Nathan’s best guitar hook since Tuscola’s “Two-Penny Vengeance.” But let's stop right there. I don’t want to do a tune by tune breakdown. Instead, let me answer a few questions that may have arisen in your mind about this record. Is this a different kind of Nathan Hamilton album? Yes, it is. If you’ve been a Nathan Hamilton fan, though, and followed his solo career, been to his live shows, you had to expect this was in him. Musically it’s quite different from his previous releases, but lyrically it’s really an expansion and extension the broader themes he began exploring in All for Love and Wages. Is there any sign of the folk-y Nathan Hamilton on this record? Hell yeah! In “Green & Gold” Nathan sings: "I saw a broken, black umbrella, just like a fallen newborn bird. Lying in the street, just as useless as a song gone unheard." Nathan the poet is alive and well. Musically, the album’s last song, “Hanging On,” is a beautiful acoustic number. There is a longer than normal gap between the previous song and “Hanging On,” as if to signal that it should be considered a stand-alone. Perhaps he put it on there to show his more laidback fans that he hasn’t totally abandoned his folk roots. What’s the best song on the record? That’s always a hard one to answer, because it really takes many listens over time for the songs to age properly, but, gun to my head, if I’m picking just one, it’d be “Teeth.” It’s the kind of song that I think will still sound as fresh ten years from now as it does today. Six Black Birds is Nathan Hamilton with attitude. In “The Cut” he explains: "I don’t mean to be so angry. Truth be told, I am just scared. Lashing out at anybody That has the bad luck of being there." I can’t say I felt “lashed out at,” but Six Black Birds grabbed me from the first guitar lick and didn’t let me go until the last note almost forty-five minutes later. And then it left me wanting more. (Review by Steve Circeo)
The Dust Devils - Change in the WeatherThe Dust Devils - Change In The Weather
Change In The Weather, recorded primarily last October at Third Coast Studios in Port Aransas, offers twelve tracks and is a solid third effort for the band formerly known as The Cosmic Dust Devils. The title track is a soulful ballad to lead off the offering. On “Hurry Sundown” and “Turn up the Music,” Barbara Malteze wails with considerable passion. Sounding suspiciously like Ann Wilson and Heart, Malteze’s vocal presence is showcased as well on “We’re All In This Together.” Kevin Higgins’ pop arrangements on the first 4 cuts of this CD allow her to explore her range. Track 5 finds Higgins handling the vocals on the easy listening number “Amazing Sense of Calm.” He and Malteze offer up a sweet duet on “Home.” “The Hottest Day of the Year” is a cool instrumental allowing George Quiroga to lay out some cool bluesy dobro licks. “Backroads” is another duet where the tempo swings up. Quiroga again shines with some excellent acoustic lead work. This is probably the most commercially acceptable track on the CD, sounding more like what the listener is accustomed to from this band. On “Robert Rolled His Pickup Truck Again,” a tale of woe regarding the preferred mode of transportation in this great state, Higgins again proves the classic Dust Devil sound with the help of a little Led Zeppelin flashback in the intro! “Four Friends at the Bar” is a raucous number extolling the virtues of life on the road with the band. It appears as a pseudo-autobiographical sketch, describing the rags to riches to rags rise and fall of a band trying to make it, and not too willing to conform to anything. “Coastal Bender” is an innuendo-filled number with references to fishing, women, drinking, and the other “normal” things that take place on a weeklong vacation on the coast. The sound is varied from beginning to end. Exploring totally different production styles, The Dust Devils are sure to be able to lasso a very wide and diverse audience with Change In The Weather. (Review by Gordon Ames)

Renegade Rail - RaggedRenegade Rail - Ragged
The importance of track sequence seems to be lost on many bands these days, or maybe it’s their “people” who always seem to want to frontload the “hits,” artistically defined sequencing be damned! I can’t tell you how many albums I’ve been listening to and come to a song that I know must be the last, only to find that it’s only track seven of twelve. Sequencing is part of what makes a record an album, rather than just a collection of songs. If for no other reason, Renegade Rail’s Ragged would be notable for its spot-on sequencing. Young bands, please listen to this record and note the way the tracks, when played in their proper order, pick you up, put you gently back down, and how the final song, “Crazy,” really feels like the final song. A quick look at the liner notes tells me that Mike McClure produced Ragged. McClure at the helm does not necessarily ensure the record will be good, but he is one of the producers, along with Adam Odor and Mark Addison, whose names let me know that I could be in for something very special. “Cardboard” is the opening track. It’s a catchy, country-rock tune about a guy escaping from an unhealthy relationship. “Fat Girls And Weed” is a tongue-in-cheek ode to just what the title says, and it’s surely a favorite at live shows. “Teach You How To Fly” makes great use of a fiddle and a plucking banjo as the backtrack demonstrates that this band’s country roots can shine through when needed. “Red Dirt” is a rocker that immediately appealed to me with its chorus, that shouts: Nashville there’s a thing or two That I really want to say. I’ll take Red Dirt any day. Hear, hear! Ragged has one definite standout track, though, and it’s “Need For Speed,” which is a pure rock tribute to NASCAR drivers. With its driving backbeat, screaming guitars, and fast pace, this is old-school rock at its best. The songs were all written by lead singer Mike Munsterman, with drummer Eric Kullman co-writing three (most notably “Need For Speed”), and producer McClure assisting on “Teach You How To Fly.” As much as I like this album, there is one song that could have been left off. “If This Ain’t Texas” provides a nice musical bridge between the softer “Just You And Me,” and the rocking “Need For Speed,” but there’s something about the song that seems out of place. I dunno, maybe I’ve just heard too many songs that declare Texas to be the motherland. Hell, tell me something I don’t know. Even with that slight misstep, though, Renegade Rail has reached some kind of pinnacle with Ragged. They have produced a record that is satisfying to both the country and the rock sides of me, and, most of all, they’ve produced a real album, complete with a beginning, an end, and a satisfying center. In these days of one-song downloads, that is a true accomplishment, and I thank them for it. (Review by Steve Circeo)

Stephanie Briggs - SparkStephanie Briggs - Spark
The quality that went into creating the new Stephanie Briggs CD, Spark, is obvious right from the packaging. This is the kind of effort we need on the Texas indie music scene. The CD inserts are built on a sharp two-color design, complete with full libretto, and interestingly placed handcropped photos of the album’s players. The packaging obviously took a lot of time and effort and seems very personal, not the product of a soulless art studio. Nice. I know, I know, you don’t care about what it looks like – you want to know how it sounds. But, wait, before I even get into the songs themselves, I want to comment on the overall production quality, because there are just too many crappy sounding releases out there. Stephanie and Matthew Briggs produced, and Pat Manske engineered, mixed, and mastered the record, which sounds crisp and clean. Getting the sound right is tedious (read: expensive, whether in time or dollars), so I want you to know that the effort is noticed and appreciated. Now to the music. You may recall Stephanie Briggs from her time in Rodger Wilko, where she and Zack Walther shared lead vocal and songwriting duties. Rodger Wilko had a sound I enjoyed, and, having already heard Zack’s post-Wilko departure from that sound, I was curious about which direction Stephanie would go. I’m happy to report that Spark is a noteworthy achievement in pop music. Like Plumtucker’s Lightning Wheels last year, my enjoyment of Spark stems from the trip it takes me on. The album includes simple acoustic meanderings, wailing electric riffs, engaging instrumentation choices, and exciting vocal detours, all of which combine to create a 45-minute musical journey. This album just plain makes me feel good, and Stephanie’s lead vocals are no small part of that. Whether moving in a fast-paced staccato or carrying a melody, Stephanie’s voice is clear and beautiful. She knows her vocal range and doesn’t try to push outside the envelope. She generally, in fact, delivers her words in more of a musically speaking, rather than a singing, style. Stephanie has something to say, and she wants to make sure you can hear it. So what is she saying? The songs on Spark are poetic, often abstract, observations on life. “Photo Chemicals” tells the story of an imaginary meaningful glance. “Doll” is a triumphant song of escape from a deadend relationship. “Caterpillar” is an inspired acoustic instrumental (including Stephanie’s oohah- ing voice as an instrument) that leads directly into the haunting and musically ambitious “I Don’t Mind,” a song about two lovers who communicate best when they aren’t using words. (Let me insert a quick disclaimer here. Grasping the meaning of a Stephanie Briggs song is not a simple matter. In fact, I may be way off base on the above interpretations relative to Stephanie’s original intent, but these lyrics are true poetic art, and that means the interpretation is best left to each reader/listener. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) Spark is undeniably hip, rad, boffo, sick, off the hook – insert your favorite term for “cool and exciting” here. More than that, though, it’s a firm reminder that “pop” does not necessarily mean “mindless.” Stephanie Briggs has put her mind on full display with Spark, and I like what I see … and hear. (Review by Steve Circeo)
Emory Quinn - Letting GoEmory Quinn - Letting Go
Emory Quinn, or EQ as they are called, is nothing but pure fun. These young guys are hip and talented musicians who can play almost anything, and they often switch instruments in sets. Their debut CD, Letting Go, is a collection of cool grooving songs that are not country, not pop, and not Americana. They are all three at the same time. Emory Quinn is their own sound that can effortlessly cross the mainstream lines in the same CD with ease and versatility. They have a sound that could emerge to be the Jimmy Buffet lifestyle sound of Texas. Their lives as outdoors lovers come through in the music and their personal style. Letting Go is a record that relates to a Texas outdoor lifestyle without getting stupid and cheesy. The songs are masterful in their lyrical construction of what the Texas outdoor life is like. “Three Day Weekend,” the first single on the record, is a fun song of a good weekend on the coast when life is simple and easy. Listening to the tune will transport you straight into that scene. There is not a bad track on the CD and standouts include; “Bring me Down”, “All you Ever Do”, and “Come Around”. Each tune is different and hard to describe, but they are all fantastic. If Emory Quinn could be explained in one word, it would be “versatility.” They are not only extremely talented players of several instruments each, but they also are capable of crafting an evolving sound in each tune that is distinct but different in a way that sets the trend and does not follow it. Their debut CD is a must for anyone who is tired of the same trend in Texas music. It is different and spot on. It is one of the best of the year so far. (Review by Keith Howerton)
Drew Kennedy - Dollar Theatre MovieDrew Kennedy - Dollar Theatre Movie
Drew is a talented musician and I have found myself to be a very close follower of his music for several years now, with many Tuesday nights (and various others) having enjoyed a cold one and some beautiful Drew Kennedy music. I’ve been waiting in great anticipation of this CD and am pleased to announce now that the wait has ended, it has not been in vain. Dollar Theatre Movie by Drew Kennedy follows his 2003 independent debut record Hillbilly Pilgrim, and right from the opening track, the lyrics are enough to make anyone with a soul stop cold and think. Drew’s talent is proven as all 13 tracks credit him as either writer or co-writer. Peter Dawson, talented musician in his own right, is included in that poor of great writers. Add in great music and musicians and the circle is complete on this record. “Goodbye” is one of the most tear jerking songs I have ever heard. It tells the tale of a man who knows that what he is doing to his woman is so much less than what she deserves. I believed you when you said you’d never leave, so please let me. A new spin on the end of a relationship, he only leaves her because that is what is best for her. The song aptly titled “The New Me” describes a total change of persona a man takes on as he decides that his life is not what it should be. The heart-wrenching “The Last Waltz” addresses the loss felt when one of the great dancehalls closes down. Another song worth mentioning is “Tomorrow’s Not Tonight.” Working for a dollar, just to bring me home a dime Tomorrow I can worry But tomorrow’s not tonight With its quick beat, movement is demanded whether it be in the form of toe tapping or all out dancing. Not to mention, most everyone can relate to the feeling of working so hard to take home so little. Finally the title track offers its own brand of insight. It’s the second time around Like a dollar theater movie I can blend in like you never even knew me There is not a doubt in my mind that I could produce a rather lengthy rave discussing Dollar Theatre Movie, but the most concise summary I can give is that this is a soulful must have for anyone who truly appreciates lyrics. Buy it, pop it in, and spin it; I’m pretty sure you’ll agree. (Review by Elise Tschoepe)
Jay Boy Adams - The ShoeboxJay Boy Adams - The Shoebox
“Color You Gone” continues to climb the charts and it’s not even the best track on the album. Jay Boy Adams’ music is its own genre, mixing folk, blues, rock, and country into an astonishing twelve tracks. Jay Boy Adams has released a realistically graphic debut album. He combines wisdom with lyrics in “The Shoebox,” "Moro Bay,” and “For Home.” His music portrays a man looking back on the “good ole days” and grasping the emotions that describe who he is, and what takes him home. “Life in a Small Town” along with “Showman’s Life” depict the lives of two raw, honest souls facing consequences for the decisions they make. "Showman’s Life" is the classic Jesse Winchester song that has been covered by Nashville superstars like Gary Allan. The phenomenal acoustics and astounding mandolin solo in “Mississippi to Abilene” leave a listener impressed and inspired. The story line in the song paints a vivid image of a rural man’s life. “Bottle and the Bible” pulls heart strings and clenches the spirit. Its honest, humble lyrics sung by a graceful, soulful voice leave a listener with chills. This breathtaking blues waltz combined with an amazing story defines good music. In “Life and Fate” and “Waitin’ on Five O’Clock” Jay Boy Adams rocks out with a country blues feel, as both songs talk about everyday life in the real world. The current single, “Color You Gone” makes great for radio airplay with its easy tempo and creative lyrics. “Water for My Horses” takes a listener back in time as it illustrates the tale of a man chasing “an outlaw to hell.” The instrumentation and stunning mix of gospel soul in “John the Revelator” will leave ears ringing for more. Jay Boy Adams does a great job of combining honesty with edge and soul with drama. The Shoebox is a sincere, intense portrait of reality and emotion. (Review by Tracy Nicole)
Jay Boy Adams - The ShoeboxSouth First Band - Like the Movies
From the first track, “Wake up Wanting Me,” through the last one, “Ice Cold Beer," it is obvious that the new release from The South First Band is a quality production. “Wake up Wanting Me," which is the first single for radio, is a tune of a relationship gone wrong. The tune has a catchy hook, superb harmonies, and great rhythm and lead guitar work. Four other notable songs on the record are, “Nothing Like We Have," “Stars over Austin," “Back to Texas," and “Ice Cold Beer." They are all powerful songs that are well produced and recorded. “Stars over Austin” is a ballad that warms the heart like the Austin skyline after a long drive to get there. “Back to Texas” and “Ice Cold Beer” are fun rocking songs that are just a blast to give a listen. “Nothing Like We Have” is simply a superb piece of lyrical and poetic work. Without question, however, the best track on the record is the title track. “Like the Movies” is destined to be one of the best songs of 2007. With the hook, “Life is never like the movies; love is never in a song," “Like the Movies” tells a story of taking things and love for granted. The South First Band is known for rocking shows and powerful harmonies. On Like the Movies they don’t disappoint in either category. Their harmonies are strong, the beats are rocking, and the songs well constructed. With a CD like this under their wings, the South First Band is destined to fly high in 2007. This one is a must have. (Review by Keith Howerton)
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