JP HARRIS - SOMETIMES DOGS BARK AT NOTHING FREE DIRT RECORDS DIRT-CD-0090
American country singer, songwriter, guitarist and clawhammer banjo player Joshua Pless ‘JP’ Harris was born in 1983 in Montgomery, Alabama, and is now based in Nashville, Tennessee. He doesn’t consider himself a musician as much as a carpenter who writes country songs. For this, his third full-length album, Harris is back after a four-year hiatus to remind us what it’s like to actually live the stories we hear so often in country music. After leaving home at 14 he travelled the country hopping freight trains, working the odd job, and living without electricity or running water for over a decade. The songs on Sometimes Dogs Bark at Nothing were inspired by this modern day hobo’s adventures and the album features a handful of his favourite musicians. Produced by Morgan Jahnig, of Old Crow Medicine Show fame, it authentically captures the stories of his stranger-than-fiction life. Dripping with pedal steel and telecaster twang, the record has the rugged edges of outlaw, the danceability of honky tonk, and classic country’s essential emotional candour. After more than a decade in the trenches, Harris is more in love with country music than ever and this new release is a perfect intoduction to his honest, gritty and engaging songs. Highlights include the rousing opening track, JP’s Florida Blues #1, Jimmy’s Dead and Gone (‘I received my education on the freight trains of our nation’), the humorous When I Quit Drinking, Lady in the Spotlight, and the stripped-down Runaway. Rolling Stone Country recently singled out this psych fringe country artist as one of ‘10 New Country Artists You Need to Know About’ for August 2018, calling his work ‘rebellious honky-tonk, stitched with blue-collar country music.’ Watch video
GOLDEN COUNTRY UNION SQUARE MUSIC USMMKDCD43
The term ‘country music’ embraces several different genres: the Nashville sound (most popular in the 1960s); bluegrass, a fast mandolin, banjo and fiddle-based music popularised by Bill Monroe and the Foggy Mountain Boys; Western, which encompasses traditional Western ballads and Hollywood cowboy music; Western swing, a sophisticated dance music popularised by Bob Wills; the Bakersfield sound (Buck Owens and Merle Haggard); outlaw country; Cajun; Zydeco; gospel; oldtime (generally pre-1930 folk music); honky tonk; Appalachian; rockabilly; neotraditional country and jug band. Each style has its unique rhythms and chord structures, though many songs have been adapted to the different country styles. Vernon Dalhart was the first country singer to have a nationwide hit (May 1924, with ‘The Wreck of Old 97’) and modern country music has been greatly influenced by Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family. This two-CD collection includes music from the hard times of the 1930s, through the war years of the 40s and into the new confidence and energy of the 50s - truly was a ‘golden age’ for country music in the USA. Thes 50 tracks feature legends such as Johnny Cash, Hank Williams (Your Cheatin’ Heart), Loretta Lynn, Jimmie Rodgers, Patsy Cline (She’s Got You) Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton, as well as well as less well known artists like The Stanley Brothers, Goldie Hill and Rose Maddox. Highly recommended.
DELLA MAE ROUNDER 11661-36378-02
In a relatively short period of time, this young Boston-based all-female group has won an enthusiastic following for their vocal, instrumental and songwriting talent. After having the idea at a summer festival, founder Kimber Ludiker hand picked musicians for Della Mae from all over the country: singer Celia Woodsmith comes from a blues/rock background, guitarist Courtney Hartman studied at Berklee College of Music, bassist Shelby Means played with various bands in Nashville, and mandolin player Jenni Lyn Gardner was schooled in traditional bluegrass. Della Mae have given high-energy live performances at festivals around the USA and self-released their first album, I Built This Heart, in 2011, followed by the acclaimed This World Oft Can Be. Della Mae’s eponymous third album was recorded at Nashville’s Sound Emporium and reveals a renewed sense of mission for the group, reflected in the emotional intensity and musical invention of such new originals as Boston Town, Rude Awakening and For the Sake of My Heart, as well as vivid, insightful readings of the Rolling Stones’ classic No Expectations and the Low Anthem’s haunting To Ohio, which showcase the quartet’s superb musicianship and expressive harmonies, as well as Celia Woodsmith’s subtle lead vocals. Mandolinist Jenni Lyn Gardner and guitarist Courtney Hartman also step up to take memorable lead-vocal turns on Good Blood and Long Shadow, respectively. Della Mae’s boundary-pushing direction is the product of a fortuitous collaboration with producer Jacquire King, an iconoclastic visionary who has won Grammy awards for his work on landmark albums for Tom Waits, Norah Jones and Kings of Leon. The producer’s talent for capturing creative chemistry and spontaneous moments of inspiration proved to be an ideal match for Della Mae’s skills, which are augmented by standup bassist Mark Schatz and Elephant Revival frontwoman Bonnie Paine, who contributes percussion and musical saw on several tracks. The resulting album honours the musicians’ roots in bluegrass, folk, and rock while staking out a distinctive, organic sound and style that are wholly Della Mae’s own. The band’s revitalized approach is reflected in the compelling new compositions, and in the raw immediacy of their vocal and instrumental performances. Armed with these dynamic tunes and a renewed sense of purpose, Della Mae are getting back on the road to introduce their new music to their loyal admirers, touring extensively starting on 9th July 2015 with the Summertyne Festival at The Sage, Gateshead, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.
DELLA MAE - THIS WORLD OFT CAN BE ROUNDER RECORDS 6188082
This Grammy-nominated second release by Della Mae shows that the band are respectful of American musical tradition, but not restricted by it, combining centuries’ worth of musical influences with an emotionally tough, undeniably modern songwriting sensibility. This World Oft Can Be’s 12 songs include such engaging originals as Empire, Paper Prince, Maybeline and the feisty title track. The music showcases Della Mae’s instrumental abilities, lilting harmonies and subtly commanding lead vocals. The focus is squarely on the band’s emotionally potent songs and spirited, effortlessly expressive performances. The album was recorded at Cash Cabin Studio, Johnny Cash’s former recording base, in Hendersonville, Tennessee, with noted guitarist Bryan Sutton producing. In addition to absorbing the studio’s inspirational vibes, Courtney Hartman played June Carter Cash’s vintage 1933 Gibson L5 Round Hole guitar on Some Roads Lead On, while Ludiker borrowed John Hartford’s custom carved fiddle on Letter From Down The Road. ‘An impressive and highly commercial blend of contemporary and traditional influences.’ - The Guardian.
CARLENE CARTER - CARTER GIRL ROUNDER RECORDS 11661-9184-2
American country singer and songwriter Carlene Carter is the daughter of June Carter and her first husband, Carl Smith. In 1987, she joined with the singing trio The Carter Sisters, consisting of her mother June Carter Cash and June’s sisters Helen and Anita Carter in a revived version of The Carter Family, and were featured on a 1987 television episode of Austin City Limits along with Carlene’s stepfather Johnny Cash. Her solo recording career had begun in the late 1970s with her eponymous debut album and she has made a dozen more since as well as more than twenty singles. The idea for Carter Girl was to include material that spans many years of Carter Family songwriting in order to show its progression, and as a result this album covers material from three generations, including two songs written by Carlene herself: Me and the Wildwood Rose and Lonesome Valley 2003. Old Carter family songs have been updated/modernised with more country styling and the album was produced by Don Was, who also plays bass. The outstanding lineup of guests includes Willie Nelson on a heartfelt version of Troublesome Waters, the wonderfully grizzled voice of Kris Kristofferson on Black Jack David and Vince Gill harmonising on the lovely Lonesome Valley 2003. Other highlights include the ominous opening track, Little Black Train, the heartbreaking I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight, and the compelling Tall Lover Man. The final track, I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow, features old vocals from Helen Carter, Anita Carter, June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash. This is a highly personal selection of songs and Carlene Carter promises to revisit more Carter Family treasures on future releases.
SUZY BOGGUSS - LUCKY PROPER RECORDS PRPCD121P
Suzy Bogguss, an Illinois native and one of country music’s most pristine and evocative vocalists, made her major label debut in 1989 and quickly became one of the key artists that defined those golden days of ‘90s country. She scored a string of Top 10 singles with country radio staples like Outbound Plane and Aces, and her 1991 album of that name was certified platinum. In addition, she scored a trio of gold albums and notched more than 3 million sales. With Lucky the singer comes full circle: Her first song on the radio, Somewhere Between, was by Merle Haggard but Suzy Bogguss didn’t set out to craft a tribute record with Lucky. An accomplished artist and songwriter and a CMA, ACM and Grammy Award winner, Bogguss and her husband/co-producer Doug Crider were combing through songs to consider for her next project. Never one to stick to a particular style, having branched out into jazz, folk and swing sounds alongside traditional and modern country, Bogguss kept coming back to a set of songs that spoke to her...and they just happened to be by Haggard – songs full of humanity and experience. ‘He really is the poet of the common man,’ she says. ‘Not every artist has music that is as universal as Merle’s. It’s pretty heavy-duty stuff, and I think that’s why to so many of us who sing and write songs, he’s such a king among us. When I hear his songs, I feel like I’m listening in on someone’s life.’ On Lucky she is joined by her own excellent band at her home studio - along with background vocals from an impressive array of guest singers, including Matraca Berg, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Gretchen Peters and Jon Randall Stewart. Suzy Bogguss makes the old country rebel’s compositions her own, reinterpreting classics like The Bottle Let Me Down, the wistful Silver Wings and Today I Started Loving You Again from a female point of view. Other highlights include the rueful I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink, the playful Let’s Chase Each Other Round the Room, and the soulful Someday When Things Are Good. Highly recommended.
SIMPLY HANK WILLIAMS SIMPLYCD237
Hank Williams wrote over 700 songs that are still performed today more often than those of any other country musician, and his unforced stage persona and heartfelt delivery formed a blueprint for country and western artists worldwide. Although he achieved near-legendary status and recognition in his own time as a pioneer of the honky-tonk style, Hank Williams’ personal life was marked by adversity and upheaval. Domestic instability and lifelong, severe back pain increasingly led him to self medicate with alcohol and painkilling drugs such as morphine. On January 1st, 1953, hours before a scheduled performance in Ohio, he was found dead in the back seat of his brand new Cadillac outside Oak Hill, West Virginia. He was just 29 years old. Hank Williams epitomised the ‘live fast, love hard, die young’ image, and his music is both poignant and raucous, bittersweet and wry. This 2 CD compilation features over 50 of the greatest songs from the man who changed country music forever, including classics such as Lovesick Blues, I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, Cold, Cold Heart, Hey, Good Lookin’, Take These Chains From My Heart, The Blues Come Around, Crazy Heart, and You Win Again. This is timeless, often heart-breaking music from a performer who rose from humble hillbilly origins to superstardom.
EASY COUNTRY UNION SQUARE MUSIC EASYCD203
This richly varied compilation takes in the best of traditional country music artists and contemporary performers who have so imaginatively developed the genre. From Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams, through Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson, up to Emmylou Harris, Lonestar and Ryan Adams, Easy Country’s songs all share a deeply resonant honesty. The 45 well-chosen tracks on this excellent three-album box set feature some of the finest country music ever recorded and show why this vibrant form of music remains so popular. Highly recommended, especially to anyone yet to be convinced that country music is for them.
LIZ ZORN - THE TRUTH ABOUT ME DOO BUG RECORDS 5648-1
This stylish debut album by the painter, multi-media artist and poet Liz Zorn was two years in the making. It’s an eclectic mix of folk/blues and adult alternative music that shows the influence of such contemorary songwriters as Lucinda Williams and Patty Griffin. All the songs were written by Zorn, who lives in Morrow, Ohio. She also produced the record and plays small body Martin Acoustic and Liberty Resonator guitars. The highly distinctive sound was achieved by meticulously working in layers of guitar and vocals. Rock and country music are fused with blues and jazz to produce a winning brand of Americana. The singer went through around two hundred songs to come up with the eleven on this album. Standout tracks apart from the title song include Cold Black Night, the bluesy Giddy Up Baby, Knife to the Bone (a spare and brutally honest response to abuse), and the wonderfully plaintive So Long. Expressive vocals throughout, sometimes shaded with echo and ambient sounds, take the listener on an emotional journey filled with delightful surprises.
THE CARTER FAMILY - COUNTRY LEGENDS RCA NASHVILLE/BMG 82876 59266 2
Probably the most influential group in country music history, the Carter Family switched the emphasis from hillbilly instrumentals to vocals, made scores of their songs part of the standard country music canon, and made a style of guitar playing - ‘Carter picking’ - the dominant technique for decades. The group comprised of a shy gospel quartet performer called Alvin P. Carter and two reserved country girls - his wife, Sara, and their sister-in-law, Maybelle. Together they sang a pure, simple harmony that influenced countless other groups of the 1930s and 40s, as well as folk, bluegrass and rock musicians such as Woody Guthrie, Doc Watson, Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris. A.P., the family patriarch, collected hundreds of British/Appalachian folk songs and sixteen of the most popular feature on this excellently produced CD, including Worried Man Blues, Lonesome Valley, Wabash Cannonball, Wildwood Flower and Keep on the Sunny Side.