The Freelance Mentalists.
Friday, January 23, 2015
  Thru The Polled, Rain & Snow: 2014 Nashville Scene Country Ballot & Comments

By Don Allred
Best Albums:
  1. Miranda Lambert: Platinum
  2. Carlene Carter: Carter Girl
  3. The Delines: Colfax
  4. Lee Ann Womack: The Way I'm Livin'
  5. Lucinda Williams: Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone
  6. Minton Sparks: Gold Digger
  7. Laura Cantrell: No Way There From Here
  8. Nikki Lane: All Or Nothin'
  9. Mary Gauthier: Trouble and Love
  10. Amy LaVere: Runaway's Diary

Hon. Mentions:
Rodney Crowell: Tarpaper Sky, Willie Nelson & Sister Bobbie: December Day, Terri Clark: Some Songs, Sturgill Simpson: Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, Eric Church: The Outsiders, Billy Joe Shaver: Long In The Tooth, Angaleena Presley: American Middle Class, Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison: Our Year, Alice Gerrard: Follow The Music, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives: Saturday Night/Sunday Morning, Parker Millsap: s/t, Tami Neilson: The Kitchen Table Sessions, Vol. 2, Elise Davis: Life, Shovels & Rope: Swimmin' Time, Sunny Sweeney: Provoked (either here or Other [About Half Good], but the good 'uns are mostly real good)(ditto--->) Caroline Peyton: Homeseeker's Paradise

Best Reissues:
Jerry Lee Lewis: The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings
Shelby Lynn: I Am Shelby Lynne (Deluxe Edition)
Hank Williams: The Garden Spot Programs, 1950

Bob Dylan & The Band: The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 (Deluxe Edition) (old school country & folk, old school rock-pop, classic American neurotica, incl in original Americana classics, beyondo, & busy being born)
Lydia Loveless: Somewhere Else (country punk, tombstone soul, heavy jangle, noise-baptized, necessary psychodrama, ritualizm crisis, weatherman-tortured Central OH Southern Gothic, roamin' romance, your dive 2night
(Some prefer the Tweet:
Lydia Loveless, Somewhere Else: country punk, tombstone soul, noise-baptized, necessary psychodrama, maybe ballads, yr dive 2night)
Lone Justice: This Is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes 1983 (cowpunk, Hollywoodbilly, sandblast sagas)
Countryoid cont.:
Rosanne Cash: The River and The Thread (Deluxe Edition) (post-country, singer-songwriter, arty, artisanal, artful, art-country, art-country-novelty, sometimes all at once)
Jerry Lee Lewis: Rock & Roll Time (old school rock, piano country boogie)
John Fullbright: Songs (metamodern singer-songwriter insights, neo-retro pop ballad manipulations)
(various artists) Country Funk 2 (often very stoned, mainly too consistently happy (& sometimes self-congratz 4 bing funkee) to be more country than countryoid---Isn't Western Swing often damn happy? Yes, but it's Western)
Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers: Get In Union (older than old school Bible songs, work songs, play songs, home songs, going away songs, adult and children's, several levels at all times, sounds like)
Jerry David DeCicca: Understanding Land (With Urban Ohio having been replanted fairly deeply  in Texoidcana, he murmurs, raises glimpses, puts 'em back, from here to the screen door horizon, between female compass notes, educated yet un-picky picking)
Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy, (settin' on the tracks, windmill billin', brothers no bros, in tune for now)

Other (about half good)(40-60%)(not listed in order of percentage)
Jason Eady: Daylight & Dark, Willie Nelson: Band of Brothers, Tim McGraw: Sundown Heaven Town (Deluxe Edition), Dolly Parton: Blue Smoke, Jesse Winchester: A Reasonable Amount of Trouble,  Sam Hunt: Montevallo, Justin Townes Earle: Single Mothers, Don Williams, Reflections, Hurray For The Riff Raff: Small Town Heroes

Best New Artists:
Elise Davis
Parker Millsap

Best Vocalist, Male:
Willie Nelson
Jerry Lee Lewis
Rodney Crowell

Best Vocalist, Female:
Lee Ann Womack
Amy Boone (Delines)
Nikki Lane

Duo, Trio, Group:
Willie Nelson & Bobbie Nelson
Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison
Lady Antebellum
The Band Perry
Eric Church's band (more them than him)
Marty Stuart And His Fabulous Superlatives (added, forgot!)

Best instrumentalists:
Willie Nelson, guitar
Jerry Lee Lewis, piano
Bobbie Nelson, piano

Most Pathetic:
Big & Rich: Gravity

I Am Shelby Lynne, Deluxe Edition reissue: country soul, rainy night sleepless clarity, new notes 2 self & other in old margins, side sts.  Exemplary personal distillation of vintage elements vs. cover gloss. Elegant bonus trax (relatively spare, never sparse), live DVD.

Jerry Lee Lewis, Rock & Roll Time: Country boogie too, relatively slow but def in combo, doin the mesh-around. In addition to The Basement Tapes Complete(?), we get yet another prev. unheard Dylan title, JLL's well-battered version of "Stepchild." Not killer Killer tracks, but good incl. benign (as in tumor).

Willie Nelson & Sister Bobbie, December Day: Non-Xmas, but seasonal re the winter light. Flexing ivories, geetar darts, lyrical & blunt.
Pregnancy jeans edition:
He seems a little short-winded at first, but vocal levels shift as needed: he's scrawny, full-bodied, nasal, well-rounded, etc. Ivories are also flexible, while the geetar darts, jabs, practices Djangology (he said recently he'd been taking lessons in that, but sounds the same). She contours and solos too, given more space than usual (though also check last year's Let's Face The Music and Dance)(not to mention her own '07 Audiography).
Each track lives in its own story, its own moment.

Willie Nelson's Band of Brothers does incl. some good songs: the title track is disgruntled, almost a kind of anti-anthem: "We're all a band of brothers, and sisters,  or whut-ever," also setting the record straight: "I love you and you love me, but you cain't tell me what to do," here that, entourage? But their charm is affected by the querulous ol' context (c'mon Willie, you're gonna give us geezers an even worse name). Mostly, or too often, It's a cranky rich man's breakup album, sometimes addressed to wimmin who just cain't take a hint, although the waltz where he compares one of 'em to infectious, persistent diseases could make for an effective, plausibly candid flashback (via the Woman's A-Side or Man's B-Side) on the otherwise very maturely dealing-with-it Phases and Stages. Like Blood On The Tracks' "Idiot Wind," except that's a rant; Nelson's note is from a suavely succinct poison pen. As pouted through here, the cover of Billy Joe Shaver's "Hard To Be An Outlaw" just sounds like another dumb complaint from the majestic bus (which he's said he sometimes stays in even when he's "home.") But "The Songwriters, " one of the few WN didn't write, does infectiously celebrate his well-earned privilege and power.

Alice Gerrard, Follow The Music:
Strong subtle vox, smokey mountain ballads. Some brush by, at times preoccupied, usually  beguiling; others hover: all are waiting for a train. Trad & originals, most sufficiently personalized, despite formalist connotations, 0 twang or trills needed. Fiddle, a cappella, dobro, ragtonk, just whatever's right. Production by Hiss Golden Messenger, with backing by members of HGM and Megafaunled by Seattle-born DC mainstay AG, 80, deep enough into the mountains and more.

Minton Sparks, Gold Digger:  As live, the music of her spoken word x JJ's guitar (with a bit of studio support, since they happen to be in a studio for this gig). Down home truths, itchy empathy, unspoken and unsung 'til now: "Every line is written on the body," and how.
Expanded for later explication/exploitation:
Minton Sparks is a story-telling poet with an ear for the music in spoken words. She's often held forth with guitarist John Jackson, who toured with Dylan long enough to be prepared at all times, so Live At Station Inn is a good place to start.
Studio arrangements ride along nicely too, and she's sure got a way with a beat. This fall's Gold Digger delivers more down home truths in itchy empathy: "Every line is written on the body," and how. (If had to pick one for a comp, might possibly be "Tennessee Prison For Women," which is like a slice of Orange Is The New Black, although seems even more like based on her teaching there, or is that just a illusion of her deft realness)(could check the bio to see if she actually taught in such a place---it's not unusual---but the music's the thing

Hank Williams, The Garden Spot Programs 1950: Very live radio guest star & band, at home on the musical-emotional range. 2011's The Legend Begins: Rare and Unreleased Recordings incl discreetly edited Health & Happiness Shows w more humor, but TGSP  is robust, soulful. Tune in.

The folk country of Hurray For The Riff Raff's Small Town Heroes has me thinking "Snorah Jones" more often than not. The actual Norah invokes her nickname to show she knows what’s up, while diligently trying to get past it; just as purposefully, it seems, Alynda Lee Segarra tends to steer her capable l'il crew right into the warm milk lullabies. Some reference to "Southern Gothic" in their Wikipedia etc; maybe this is meant to be more normal.(Live sets, like in NPR's Newport archive, can be perkier.) Still, it's got its moments, like a perfect version of "San Francisco Bay Blues," floating like a blooming branch, in the beauty of memory and desolation (see what you're leaving behind, Babe). Also, the title song and a couple others toward the end, where she, almost as an afterthought, mentions how and where the bodies are, traces of who screwed who, guess you could call that Southern Gothic, or local history, or just small town talk, don't believe a word, though the way she undersells it when she's really cooking, is something I can't dismiss. What a flukey gift.

Rodney Crowell's Tarpaper Sky starts with a stilted Big Sky perspective "The Journey Home," which come to think of it, fits with this set's family resemblance to the kind of Dylan album, like most of 'em this century, for instance, which occasionally backfires but then glides along the scenic route as gracefully as a Model T, or Model A, anyway. He doesn't sing Dylany, but he's got a taste for juicy, sometimes dusty notes and seemingly offhand words that fall into place, like over drinks, on postcards, or maybe elsewhere: sure would like to hear Pistol Annies cover "God I'm Missing You," but it's not strictly necessary, considering the way he does it, conversing with someone who may be next to him, or miles/years away--then there's "Somebody's shadow/Is making me erect/Somebody's shadow/Like a noose around my neck." "Jesus Talk To Mama" mostly plays it straight, lyrics-wise, though a few bits like "Last night I beat the Devil to the draw" and def. that bone-rolling guitar have me thinking 'bout the kind of Saved gunmen to be found in Boardwalk Empire and Justified. "The Flyboy and The Kid" incl. a light-fingered skim/improvement of "Forever Young."
Mind you, this is unmistakably a Crowell album, but does suggest Dylan as a mostly good influence, not so far in effect from RC's actual collalbums with co-writer Mary Karr--their Kin also recruits a rich variety of other singers--and of course Emmylou (oh yeah, and his production of Chely Wright's Lifted Off The Ground, in which they display mainstream pop-country, fully-formed and new and true and gay as and when and how it wants to be, minus excess drama or dilution).

Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison, Our Year: Was she this strong on her solo albums? Must check. Seems like she should always sing lead. On "Lonely For You," she even sounds like a (vocally, not emotionally) self-sustained Everly, no need for overdubs. He's crisp, but there's a subliminal ebb and flow on a couple tracks, like he's pausing the take, "Lemme come back to that line": the writer as vocal stylist, whoopee. Still, it mostly works out, especially when I play it louder, and the sequence of tracks is good, like even "Harper Valley PTA" takes on a claustrophobic quality here, as Willis relentlessly busts the endless, obsessive rounds of musical beds in this itchy niche, this teeming Valley. Fine finale, "This Will Be Our Year," doesn't seem ironic, though lyrics x context of sequence show they know they got a lot to hope for, def. incl. change, but they've sure worked for it, earned it. Good, but if you haven't heard them before, check 2013 Cheater's Game first.
(PS: Rolling Country 2014 response:
Re: Willis, I'd say she's even stronger on her solo albums (though I like both of the duets albums with Robison quite a bit, as well). Of her early 90s albums for MCA, her self-titled release was my favorite, though all three were solid. Since signing with independent labels, I'd say <i>What I Deserve</i> is her strongest album, but I really don't think she's ever released a bad album. She plays to more of an Americana audience, but I think her song choices and feistiness avoid a lot of the stuffier trappings of so many other acts in that corner of the genre.
Both the Willis & Robison and Jason Eady albums made my Nashville Scene ballot. I liked Eady's previous album a bit better than this one, fwiw.
jon_oh, Wednesday, 24 December 2014 21:15 )

Jason Eady, Daylight and Dark: a mild-mannered, reflective, sometimes rueful voice, usually late night for him. between 9 and 10.Although "Temptation" seems to be out in the great wide open, an eerie gray today, with no distractions, while he thinks about his thoughts, about being tempted. He invites us to lean in, just a bit. So far, the title track and about half the others, ones that sound a bit more lived-in, pull me along. Background and duet assistants assist, also when the tempo gets picked up, just a tad. Don Williams, George Strait appeal.

Miranda Lambert, Platinum: The winter of her discontent, and not just a diva's hissy fit. Oh yeah, when she stresses about being upstaged by her big loud stupid TV star husband (as if trying to maintain your hard-won status as a female star in NashVegas---having started as third-place finalist on TV's  historic Nashville Star, then: gaining foothold via persona of cute-when-she's mad, eggsy gun-freak/pyro---now: vs. electro-bro  chart toppers wasn't enough) we're perfectly cued to respond, "Oh no, Miranda, you're Elvis, he's Priscilla!" But she manages even that obvious move really well, ditto sassing us 'bout can't have a ride in my little red wagon---cause it's ALL MESSED UP.  That's the way she really feels, pretty sure; she's not just playing hard to get, she is hard to get, hard to get a grip on, hard to accept, in her own view. Which is also true in the hinge track (getting even more relatable, as the kids say), where she doesn't wanna catch herself in the mirror, maybe looking like her Momma, the loved opponent who taught her to clean up this "Bathroom Sink," this microcosm of messy life itself.  But she does go out with Little Big Town, getting relatable as hell on the bro and sis Saturday night parking lot circuit: "Smokin' and drinkin thinkin' bout the one that GOT AWAY," hell yeah, damn!  Overall, the country equivalent of Beyonce's [i] s/t Platinum Edition.

Just today (well, started last night, hearing her live set on Music City Roots archived stream),I've become infatuated with Elise Davis: she's conversational, candid, concise, conflicted, fun. Her unpretentious charm contributes to some confusing situations, no doubt, but those wide eyes see a lot. The Life EP is what cut through my own mental clutter initially, but it sometimes sounds a bit like standard radio bait compared to these older tracks (not saying they're nec. better as *songs*). She's not all the way there yet, but could def. see her co-writing/on the same bill with Pistol Annies (together and sep), Brandy Clark, Musgraves, Lucinda, Maggie Rose: (Yes, you could figure out that link without me, yes, I'm getting pushy. just check her out.)

Jesse Winchester, A Reasonable Amount of Trouble: Uneven, but the rhythm is right there even when the footwork gets too cute, as the weakest and the strongest songs and singing all stay amazed by the way that now keeps passing through, right 2 RIP

Caroline Peyton, Homeseeker's Paradise: Rediscovered via  collectors' catnip comp Ladies From The Canyon, she proved to be still living her nine lives in the doo-dah business of Music City USA, got her own comp via (and viva) Numero, and now, at last, drops  a new album. It's produced by Nashville indie connoisseur Mark Nevers, with a suitable crew of Cats,who  provide pastoral polish and moderately bumpy country-folk-soundtrack cues to these surfacing scenes, compressed segments and restless vignettes.
Really like the opener: like now she's maybe seeing her younger self through mother's eyes,
and/or her own daughter (or at  least reminded of the way one of my friends, once a wild child, now  might see her own vagabond gal), also the way the singer hopes to keep  moving images of herself in focus. "Idella" maybe from ideal, since she says wants to be like her, "spreading her unconditional love  around" ho ho picante, the best of the blues here, which otherwise seem a bit too predictable, though always nicely performed. "Walk On Back" is
maybe a send-up of younger self's jive princess tourism (crying to get  her way, and blog entries countered by "sure sure sure"): oblique-stroke wit, always a hit in my book. "Needmore" and the title track are my two faves. Not so into the rest, maybe  because of  wishing for more adventurous music. If you  must do "The Shining Shore," after all the albums of middle-aged reflections and/or  middling Americana, should be high lonesome winds, maybe even  through the nostrils, countervailing all the travails (well---some sense of  that, anyway, however conveyed---this seems too well-fed).

Don Williams, Reflections:  Yep. Mellow retro-generic title, conciliatory crooning, but right off, he's wanting to ease on down the road….don't worry though, "You can close your eyes,"  'cause he'll be here when you wake up; he sounds reasonably reassuring about that much, if somewhat preoccupied. Also quite frank, in a low-key way of course, about all he'd do for you, and the world, "If I were free." Hey, that's how it is, darling (not "darlin'," he's not overselling the cowpoke angle, and notice it's not "If I Was," but "If I Were Free," which might as well be "If I Were King," but of course he's no such thing, and sure hopes you understand about his other commitments, thinks you will, since you're an adult lady---but if not, not. It's like that, and ditto the straight-talk "Talk Is Cheap" and "The Answer": anybody tells you he knows it, he's lying, because Don's been around, and the more he knows, the more he knows he doesn't know. Or something like that: the ol' philosopher's conversational solitaire piles up placeholder verses between the semi-catchy choruses of  those two, and several others, Then again,when background singers get closer to the foreground, and players do too, they all furnish the burnish of "Helping Hands." Wish there were more like that, as there are on 2012's And So It Goes . Also wish Wiiliams had a co-writer who could sharpen/tighten the lyrics just a little more---passive-aggressive, maybe?--- but not too much for the oh-so-careful balance he seems to be going for, when he's going anywhere, other than reflexively or willfully or maybe even dutifully cowpoking around (yes, it can happen outside of "If I Were Free," and he wasn't kidding about the sense of constraints in that one). Simple's never simple with this stuff.
build up in those two, and several others, sometimes dulling the chorus hooks, when there are any.

Sturgill Simpson, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music: the only really weird thing about this famously "weird" album: his herky-jerk delivery of the reviewer-bait lines, minus words he's dropped along the way. The ones that get through (I envy him any encounters with those aliens who "cut away the pain") are even more appreciated than they would be if we could take said delivery for granted---especially because I keep glimpsing  a basic/potential resemblence to Waylon Jennings singing Billy Joe Shaver (who can also write assertively quirky; does it lots, dang it).Perhaps this tendency is what he's resisting, although it works great when he lets it flow over that "Long White Line." He lets himself fall between the Waylon and the herky[jerk cadences, settles down like a tired old dog, but quite clearly conveys points about the "Voices" that won't leave him alone, but "ain't got nothin' to say." Could be the "they" who say say so much received wisdumb to everyone all the time, in the media, way down deep like the stronium-90 in  post-WWII mother's milk, all over the world (hence the title of Captain Beefheart's album Safe As Milk). And/or the voices that Brian Wilson has also said he's learned to ignore. It's a fine song.
The herky-jerk itself becomes meta on "The Promise," as Simpson huddles defensively/doggedly in your gaze, while trying to declare his intensions, before a climatic outburst: "WHAT AH'M TRYIN' TO SAY---", and he says it, yay.  This leads to more sympathetic listening, as far as I'm concerned: professional performers are often isolated figures, and country artists in particular often have to go through some kind of careful (if not palpably torturous) process to sell anything oh so different. Psychedelic insights/experiences, if any, would seem especially hard to bring into the spotlight: you know it's likely to sound like bullshit to most folks, and just a novelty buzz (good bullshit) to others. Which would also explain some of the tension, the reluctant pushme-pullyou in his  vocal phrasing.
But the most unabashed, still somewhut humble psych offering, "It Wasn't All Flowers," is so good that it makes some sense for him not to deliver more like this, 'cos like I said before , we might take it for granted. (On my copy, he immediately reverts to a way back look over "Panbowl," though not for nostalgic bliss, but more a sense of who, what and where now seem gone forever---the why of it is missing too, unless maybe that's in the rest of the album).
PS: Seems I wasn't only one making a Sturgill-Waylon connection: big discussion/argument on ILM's the Sturgill Simpson CD thread:
'm confused. What are we defining as outlaw material? My favorite of Waylon's outlaw material are the love songs, like Dreaming my Dreams with You, Wurlitzer Prize, Amanda, etc. He's a great stubborn wallower. I would say he really inhabits these songs.
― Heez, Friday, January 2, 2015 9:12 AM (35 minutes ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink
Yep. that's the basic appeal, and as for the capital o Outlaw bit, let's remember that WJ's "Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit Has Got Out of Hand" is one of his best, ditto "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way": his signature take much more about the drive-by humor than any macho posturing---and when it comes to love songs, yeah, "a great stubborn wallower," which is in Sturgill too: something that can be abject, but assertive too, come hell and high water. Wounded macho mebbe, and why they both can sound a bit gutshot, so outlaw in that sense. So a lot of it comes down to how you hear his voice, which can seem way less agile than Willie's, for instance, but they make a pretty interesting duo.
Also, I seem to recall somebody, maybe Jennings' buddy Dave Hickey, writing back in the mid-70s that Waylon seemed very dubious about the proposed outlaw hype, a country parallel to the Southern Rock bandwagon (which, for that matter, Gregg Allman later said he found disconcerting: "I thought all rock was basically Southern.") And see Hickey's overview of Waylon's life and take on same, "His Mickey Mouse Ways":

Speaking of weirdness times realness, there are five or six keepers on Dolly Parton's Blue Smoke, so far Following current post-Album Age album protocol, the worst ones are all up front: run the gauntlet and it gets better--in this case, not just by comparison. Once she slows down a little and thinks the verses out loud, it works, especially in that silvery, pinpoint delivery, which don't hurt a bit, though she knows you know it so could. But life hurts enough, so why get redundant. "If I Had Wings" and "You Can't Make Old Friends" have as many airborne shades of blue as necessary (also "From Here To The Moon and Back," with Willie, which is also a good wedding ballad, as xhuxx noted in Rolling Stone last year, when it first showed up on Willie's To All The Girls). "Put Your Hands On Me" is an erotic gospel song, riding the supernal mountain freeway tide, with the populist goddess's more reassuring inspirations. She cranks up some good mainstream country/rock anthems too.

Tim McGraw, Sundown Heaven Town (Deluxe Edition): points for not padding out this Deluxe with uneven remixes, but even allowing for, oh, 12 keepers (about half good), means,  counting a guitar solo here, an idea there: the title track, for instance, is good in terms of having a guy driving around and around on the golden tracks side of town, looking for that girl who gave him a dream he's trying to re-have---but sonically, it misses the turn into hypnotic drone, gets a bit monotonous, as tends to happen when hearing too much about  somebody else's dream letter of fascination---so points for realness, but again, a little too conceptual. On the borderline of  comceptual nostalgia OD with another centered around emphatically charmless, yet someewhut awestruck, visions of past family life, the point being that it was his family, his security---and now that  old crackerbox home-house is For Sale, a symptom of other tumult, but the singer urges his wife to accept the need for such a place, to generate new memories, however low-rent they may turn out to be. Also, sometimes he peals away from the inner two-lane orbits, just long enough for breathing free, all up and down the scale. But his finest moment, as performed and written. comes when he receives a call from his gal, who says she's going on vacation, giving herself time and place to think----he says no, she should let this be goodbye, not taking a break, because her choice of get-aways is too Other: "Portland, Maine? I don't know where that ee-is," is what he keeps coming back to. They've had their differences, but this? He's baffled, drawing a blank, maybe even more than he's spooked. But overall, this double album's obsession with the past just gets too predictable, and too  mind-mined-out by a right-sized crew of writers. Still, def a healthy row of keepers here, and the fails don't seem like auto-filler.

Amy LaVere, Runaway's Diary: her signature soft soprano sounds really young here, conveying "I can't believe I'm doing this,"  also "I'm doing this, wow!" and always observant, drawing back a little whenever things get too gnarly--nevertheless, scary ol' street dude Townes Van Zandt drops science in her face, via song, not personal appearance(good selection and sequencing of originals and covers).

Lee Ann Womack's The Way I'm Livin'  seems too plain at first, kind of bread-and-water penance, but gets much riper: with songs from various writers, she's made a mini-series about somebody who keeps getting flashbacks to a relationship with a bad man, and she can't be satisfied with the love of a good man (or two or three), or a one-night stand (or five or six or). Also a good plot twist toward the end, which I won't spoil. Will say that we do get a track with a hip-hop-ish pop beat, around a robust steel guitar. would like to have heard more like that 'un, but most of the arrangements are good, once the album gets going (guess the early tracks might be where she's just emerging from emotional roadkill).
from ILM's Rolling Country 2014:
I've played the Lee Ann Womack record two-dozen times in the last three days; it ends, and I just want to hit play again. Such a confident, thoughtful, well made album. It may not be exciting in the same way as last year's standout efforts from newcomers Ashley Monroe, Brandy Clark, and Kacey Musgraves, but I'd echo Lex's "floored" comment.
Thank God for Frank Liddell.
Oh I prefer it to any of those, mainly because she's so much more of a singer---and if she ever covers any of their songs, *that* could truly be something. Here's hoping she teams up w Pistol Annies (check her on Buddy Miller's Majesty of the Silver Strings, despite all the geetar filigree) By "singer," I mean not just the pipes, but the way she delivers: as you said, "confident," "thoughtful," and not too less-is-more.

also from RC 2014:
Chris Richards was just drooling over Sam Hunt in the Washington Post, so I am curious as well.
In the case of country music's hot new thing, his hotness and newness are self-evident. But this thing he's got going — this hybridization of country and hip-hop that's so elegant against all odds — is deceptively phenomenal. Hunt's major label debut is a lean 10 songs, each one of them fantastic, all of them poised to raise Nashville's temperature more than just a few degrees.
curmudgeon, Thursday, 30 October 2014 14:41 (2 months ago) Permalink

My response:
Sam Hunt, Montevallo:  10 songs in 38 minutes, and I 'ppreciate that, but still some of 'em are too long, like, of all things "Cop Car," where he's really sweating what her Daddy's gonna say, but still,"Somethin' in the blue lights' flashin'/Brought out the freedom in your eyes....I fell in love in the back of a cop car." Great first epiphany (and good build up to it),but, though he's always as earnest as Luke Bryant and Lee Brice, he lacks their corny flair, and this gets real solemn (and like Ah said, long).
He's also trying to be real tasteful, and not disturb the vibe, but this does lead to some interesting speculation, like right off in "Take Your Time," he "doesn't wanta go home with you," whom he's just met; he just wants to do it right here, right now, or maybe over there in the shrubbery, going by his down-low manner. "Single For The Summer" has a nice hazy loose-ends atmosphere, and he's very broad-minded: likes him some "debutantes...and small-town runaways," better than collecting sea shells. Could see this as a radio hit and subject of creeped-out tweets/Slate articles.
"Ex To See": realizes he's being used as the tool of her revenge, but, though he's dismayed, is still riding around with her as song ends (not real safe, maybe, but understandable; I've been there). Turnaround, maybe on the same lady, in "Make You Miss Me," where earnestness is now butthurt and truly poignant, even got an actual girl singing along a little bit; he gets my sympathy, and could see this as another hit, with no tweetplaints maybe.
Attempts at straight-up hick hop partying are even more generic than necessary (shoulda got one of the Lees in there), but I'll sure take him over Florida-Georgia, whose sprained twang, with or without autotune, is pretty painful.
Montevallo: name of a town and college in the town, where he's been doing all this studying, maybe.

Well, things could be worse, and as a matter of fact they are. I've liked all the Justin Townes Earle albums I've heard, which is most of 'em, and the more recent poetics of weariness were the more amazing for being any good at all, in terms of something I (def not his sponsor) could actually listen to, much less enjoy (shadow imagery of exhaustion countered by engaging arrangements, pretty often). But Single Mothers sounds like a man with no arms or legs in a shoebox in the middle of the road, not one with a lot of traffic, either, so no suspense there. No insult meant to actual men with no arma or legs; no doubt they're more resourceful. Nice drumming, though. (And a few tracks on this 29 minute-and-change specimen sound okay individually, but overall context, yuck.) (But never sleep on JTE's non-weary The Good Life and Midnight At The Movies.)

Cautiously checking out the new Lucinda, Where The Spirit Meets The Bone, I'm floored by a heretofore unglimpsed compatibility of  two somewhut erratic old faves: though I've never thought "rock 'n' roll!" when listening to Justin Townes Earle (well, maybe the attitude of "Harlem River Blues," and the atypically speedy way he enjoys his girl driving him around on that new Single Mothers track), still, dang if otherwise he doesn't fit under the wing of LW's Memphis denim jacket blues-soul-gospel-rock-country (not country rock), with haggard vocals centering the daily struggle with fatalism  even aside from depression: what makes Shelby Lynn also unmistakably a country voice, among her soul etc. elements), with the patched-up rehab home truths, street sermons, and rebel rhetoric are fuel, along with rusty iron in the blood from bass, drums, and guitars (which also provide some rude punctuation at times, lest this Memphis stuff get too tasteful). The I'm down/gotta-get-up alternation does get familiar, but the groove won't let me go--until, of all things, the J.J. Cale track at the end. Could live without "Burning Bridges," maybe the opener, maybe the other, but no double album has ever grabbed me like this, not right off. (Well, most of Blonde On Blonde, and  maybe Beatles' white album, but that comes off more like an anthology).

Nikki Lane's All Or Nothin' is about a rowdy gal who sometimes quietly busts her partner in luv crime---gotta keep honor among thieves, after all. Pretty confident, though not invulnerable, either way, and suggests (what may have actually happened, for all I know) Wanda Jackson keeping her 50s edge and losing the hopefully imposed late tearjerkers in the mid-60s, demonstrating, as Buck Owens did, how country could adapt to the Beatles, (and vice versa, via covers, the influence of Everlys harmonies, and even L-McC's "I've Just Seen A Face"). Which of course is something Dwight Yoakam's returned to over the years, incl Three Pears, but it seems more of a female tradition, thinking of, say, Those Darlins, Holly Golightly, or that album of Elizabeth McQueen pub-rock covers(yeah, but sounded mid-60s too, as pub-rock could in the mid=70s), discussed several Rolling Countrys ago.
Though the closest comparison might be to the late great Amy Farris's Anyway, with a twangy slender voice unfazed by sometimes flamboyant production. Whether it'll keep seeming like more than a stylistic excercise remains to be seen, but it's good exercise at least. Go Babe!

Shovels & Rope continue to be a self-sufficient Mom 'n' Pop harmonizing multi-instrumental duo, kind of a diary-keeping musical Bonnie & Clyde, tending to muse before, during and after doing whutever else they do, like blowing shit up. However, the new Swimmin' Time may have a little too much ballast: seems like it needs to pick up the tempo more often, more like prev. sets. Still, even the ones that haven't grabbed me (yet?) have spot-on changes in the arrangements, esp. on headphones, even with chainsaw fallen tree massacre going whole hog by my window.
Thinking of S&R and  male-female roots pop combos Humming House and The Vespers (both in the Music City Roots home page-linked audio archive downloads) like the major label arena thing doesn't work out, mebbe The Band Perry should consider this direction. They could handle it great, allready do, when in "Better Dig Two" and all.

Mary Gauthier's Trouble and Love: breakup and recovery and then some--though she claims (in interviews) to be through with romantic love, realizing she just wasn't made for it, and maybe vice versa, and though (in song) she does demonstrate "How You Learn To Live Alone," that's a co-write with Gretchen Peters (perfectly placed on Hashville* the TV series to boot) :another example of how she's regrouping, realigning her musical and emotional resources, into sweet unpretentious forging on, with "Worthy" the tiny turning point on a dime: "ashes into flame"--sure, why not, rewind is no great leap of imagination---once *something* provides the key, but then, you've already got to be unlocked, for creativity to do its mysterious thing, whatever the process (obviously she's a vet, a pro, almost slipping into solemn folk-country soap opera at times, but usually not: "Oh Soul" does have a choked-up male vocal shadow, and yeah she's at the crossroads and ready for repentence, but does she have to "pray at the grave of Robert Johnson"? Maybe so, considering the better lines)(and momentum of context carries most of the lesser ones through whatever gets you through this night). One of the year's best.
"Hashville"*! I wish. Where the struggling hero is named Gram.

Laura Cantrell, No Way There From Here:
Pretty and spooky without being Southern Gothic, the current Cantrell vibe is "that's just how it is," cos love & music will only take you so far, no matter through what and for what (while incl. "Turn Down For What," cos this music's into pleasure too). Sounds she knows she's on a roll, so why stop now, pick up some more sorrow and happiness on the way. Also sounds like she might be mildly surprised that I'm surprised at her unpretentious mastery and ambition (no dis on Brandy Clark, but those who think she's the best should hear the way Cantrell does less-is-more, vocally: "I'm gonna get these ol' clothes clean, do you know what I mean?")
Also, despite the shifting songwriting credits (which I haven't checked), it's seamless, without being too smooth. A touch of the old Hoboken denim lilt in there too, so one for us bravely     ageing & still appealing Amy Rigby fans (first track even has a dBs feel).

I got Rosanne Cash's The River & The Thread pretty early, but after a few spins, quickly dismissed it as too arty. But as I start listening again, and this time to the Deluxe Edition, it's growing on me. The bonus tracks---Townes Van Zandt's "Two Girls" (vibe/strategy cousin to the most truly artful, if also arty original here, fabulous "Night School"), Jesse Winchester's sensuous blue "Biloxi," and "Your Southern Heart," (apparently Cash-Leventhal, like all of 'em if not otherwise specified)---def. tip the scales in favor of artisanal pleasure: conceptualism gets carried along, as she increasingly seems to enjoy making dark, rich, fluid,lustrous stuff, suitable for some thoughtful listening and a discreet buzz.
But c'mon: this is post-country. This is Rosanne Cash. Yes, it's about a narrator, maybe a woman (gonna wear a dress, anyway), references to tape and other music gear stashed, coming back to places like Memphis (also going over to Arkansas briefly, "just to touch the compost land"? Anyway, JC was born there) and indeed, RC was born in Memphis, but mostly grew up in Southern California, in a house JC bought from Johnny Carson. She's said she was never at ease as a young female radio star in Nsshville, and she moved to NYC 25 years ago. Writes and edits books, etc. Probably owns every issue of Oxford American ever, and has appeared in the pages of several. On this album, especially, her impressions tend to resemble exoticized,  folk/Southern Lit-based  woodcut imagery, suitable for OA and the covers of  ltd. ed. vinyl.
We get empathetic or anyway increasingly sympathetic takes on a returned native's approaches to local residents, mostly with sensibilties skewed and possibly screwed, in the best tracks. But no mention of, say, Wal-Mart vs. Mom 'n' Pops (check Alan Jackson's "The Little Man" for good bits on that, despite the title), or meth, booze-running (yep, she's making me re-think A. Presley's album, despite finding its topicality a bit schematic at first), no open carry laws, no clampdown on birth control and abortion, etc. Tuning into the electric church, "50, 000 watts of common prayer," at one point, but no common speech, not when river bottoms can be "The Sunken Lands." No slang, no inverse condescension, Ah reckon.(Common prayer? Well, we do still have some Episcopals, way back there and on that NPR.)
But hey, "Open up that window, and pass the baby through/Take her to the ghost bridge, and she'll know what to do." Sounds like she's with us, folks! (And she's still studying, judging by "Night School" and some others, still learning from covering Townes & Jesse, from "Ode To Billy Joe," which she specifically references in passing once here and covers live, and from the expansion-compression cycles of 90s-now Dylan, I think, I hope...)

Early notes on Angeleena Presley's American MIddle Class:
she's kinda the George Harrison of Pistol Annies: religious, though non-charismatic, then again vocals are also n-c, and not as much a guitarist as George, though both have seen some shit and have senses of humor--but "Dry County Blues" and "Pain Pills" could sound so much better on Pistol Annies (or Womack, or Loveless, or) albums; here, with slightly generic vocals, kinda like Justified outtakes (or episode recaps, or ye olde US News & World Report clippings: schematic). Still, these, and "Life of the Party," and several others may well grown on me; can't dismiss her.
Listened to Angeleena Presley's American Middle Class again, giving it the added advantage of contrast with arty artisanal artful Rosanne. It does grow on me, but still got mixed responses. Like-to-love the writing (for the latter, line about the girl who's compared to "a saddle in a one-hoss town," ouch!)and performance of "Ain't No Way," but overall, the understated, breathy drawl can let me drift away when she doesn't let the instruments do enough of the dirty work, and seems willfully simple when the writing does. She and I come from similar backgrounds, and I'm still there, incl. financially, so obviously not smarter or for that matter better (or worse) off with the out-of-town book learnin' either, but I know she knows there's more to it than the title track rants about---oh wait, she'd be "Better Off Red," if all those things that she learned (via the cited bluegrass infection [of Eastern Kentucky State Babylon, evidently]) could just fall out of her head.
But of course, as another daughter of the mountains let me know, flat out, "You can't help what you think." Presley's just giving us the unflattering truth of where her mind goes sometimes, including the more reflexive (poverty another privileged status etc.) clenches in "American Middle Class," and "Knocked Up" too, after spilling the beans in "Dry County Blues" (which drifts away a bit toward the end, but that's part of the point about that way of life)(ditto [a day in the]"Life of the Party," kinda generic but again context y'all, and nice picking), and especially "Pain Pills" (my fave, with the "backup singer" caught in echolalia and bouncing off the particle board, times the monster guitar she finally lets off its leash---although it's real good on and important to "Grocery Store" as well). After all that, "Knocked Up" 's wry delivery understates & underlines the notion that she hasn't really turned up her nose at *all* the secular local customs. Still, gets a little tedious, but maybe that's part of just movin' right along folks, life and life only. Fine line between the mundane and quotidian, yep.
"Drunk": okay set piece, you know the plot from first couple lines, didn't Brandy Clark do this? "Blessing and A Curse" is better, with bracing music, even though no hairy solos, good she can do it this way too; "Surrender" is even better with the candor again, though not quite spelling out what she's surrendering too, except it's not a sense of (ultimate) defeat, just "I can't do it alone," which I hope means she's realizing she can't rely too much on vocal power/distinction, and that she will also be a Pistol Annie as long as that works.
Hon. Mention, I guess. End of another minority report.

Sunny Sweeney, Provoked:
Seems like 7, maybe 8 keepers, out of 13 (in 47 minutes, a reasonable running time for that many tracks): not too shabby a ratio, but dammit, Concrete set the bar high/spoiled me, and---in terms of country-pop elegance and emotional impact, nothing here grabs my attention and sails around the room with it like, say, "From A Table Away" did. Although "Uninvited" comes close: it's an almost understated little chiller, as the well-mannered witness arrives at a social occasion, " moved through the room and the crowd divided/Somebody should have told me I was/Uninvited"--but that's not the worst of it.
All the songs I like so far, incl "Bad Girl Phase" ( currently enjoying the Southern Rock tinge, and the jaded vocal: she's been here before, knows we have too), "Second Guessing," "Can't Let Go," (though it clones the original, which might make more sense if she were trying to turn Country Radio listeners onto Lucinda, but c'mon it's a Kickstarter; the NPR audience isn't exactly unfamiliar with LW),"My Bed" (one that drops the blurry double tracking which eventually undermines several other ballads, for a good duet ritual with Will Hoge), maybe "Sunday Dress" (which could be the morning after "Uninvited"'s nightmare: she's still awake--but oops the double-tracking slips in, adding a little too much entrophy), definitely "Used Cars" (yay, uptempo again, where even double-tracking--chorus only, I think---adds a nice abrasion): "Just when I thought/All of the good ones were gone/Found another woman's wreck and made him someone I could/Depend on"(not the best rhyme, but it sounds like a good make-do fixer-upper: patchy in a good way), and "Backhanded Compliment" (like "You must have such confidence, to wear that dress!"---but she also makes a Note To Self: do not say "It's my personality that makes me hot!"), all those seem like they could be fragments of scenes from the same marriage (also the good kinda patchy) Maybe the tedious ones are too, but they seem just plain tedious.
Oh yeah, and "the world goes to hell in a feel-good song" is not really much of a problem, as I feel sure the world would agree.

The Delines, Colfax: Starts with a proposal to skip work, just cruise right past it with that warm electric piano, still clinking like a drink last night, ready to pick the steel guitar on yonder corner, just a few turns away. Not hung over, maybe building up a tolerance, with   percentages of desperation and/or desolation as fuel, mileage, habit, neighborhood---anyway, craving something more. Amy Boone proposed to her boss, bluesoid novelist/lifercore Richmond Fontaine leader Willy Vlautin, that he write songs for her to sing lead on, and he did, intrigued by the possibilities and  emerging results. So the downchild's possible side-trips get subliminal excitement  added to the blend: not a tiger in your tank, but  a certain sense of discovery, plain enough to see. The seats are lived-in; the springs are still good.  
(Take-away associations also incl. bright gray light passing through the window of a diner, where Piper Laurie and Paul Newman, pretty as lucky pennies, are young and not young, talking and settling in a booth, getting closer to Kentucky all the time [The Hustler].)
Meanwhile, back in the Colfax tracks, another guy can't be satisfied, has to keep picking up in the sticks and moving on, to find another place to argue with his wife, and maybe blame her for. In the near-title song, a woman wakes up to another very late-early call; she has to leave her husband and kids to fend for themselves in the coming day's whatever, as she goes looking for her brother once again, up and down Colfax Avenue, among the aftershocks of war, triggered again by who knows what, or if they ever really stop. That one ends a little too abruptly for me, with the built-in riskiness of  an approach (vs. "closure") also favored  by Drive-By Truckers, also with mixed results (Delines debut shares DBT's equally unlikely, late-blooming first-listen's-the-charm of their 2010 The Big To-Do, and now English Oceans finds even more of its own self in momentum)(but  also now: too rock 'n' roll even for Countryoid, so they've been moved to the Pazz & Jop Top Ten, like Lydia Loveless, despite all y'all's voices and POVs).
Delines don't decline, except for certain invitations (def incl. imitations), while cruising sweetened entrophy right to the end of this thing, gliding, currently fretless, by the signage and other helpful marks, on another smog-enhanced, if not beautifully polluted morning in the city, when the weather still seems good enough, ditto the parking place, not too far from their designated destination…. (there's your ellipsis for the quarter)
PS: see several things on No Dep, incl.

Eric Church, The Outsiders:
early notes:
Fun band, springy tunes, some Zep-hop and (on "Devil Devil") bar band metal distilled to one-note solos for the climax. But the voice, even with studio padding, is really thin and so nasal he seems to be trying to reassure---himself especially?---that this is still country, not goin' too wild, despite all the slightly distanced, kind of tentative portents of storms and wrecking balls (saw a couple interviews where he mumbles something to the effect that he wasn't too sure, early on, about some of the producer's ideas).
Listening more:
First track has me thinking this is hick hop in black, with a touch of metal, ready to square off in the parking lot with rich yearbook pix/cheerleader hawgs of bro country--like Metallica presented as a dark alternative to gaudy Hollywood hair metal and Van Halen pop "metal." Also, as later songs elaborate on, it's for older bros, or bros who have been around long enough to have relationships to negotiate, and other long and winding roads, sometimes with twists which have barely turned (don't ask, just---don't...). Not serenading gals when not serenading selves and each other, in instant selfie nostalgia for the present nights, "Beer In The Headlights" and all that bro-mance.
But some people liked Metallica and hair metal and pop metal, and some of this is mainly nostalgic, like Chesney remembering race tracks more than pickup trucks, and the older bro is grateful to the lady who pulled the iron thorn from his paw, put a pin back in his grenade, and maybe introduced him to the band who pace his "Wrecking Ball" before it can explode beyond some kind of lurid macho as written, mellow as murmured customary boudoir code.
Oh yeah, the band! Always on point, and if if this okay (studio) character actor & storyteller (effectively low-key and informative when guiding us around the "fer-tile loins" of Nashville Babylonia, although it doesn't work as well when he turns on Her mate, the Devil), much more Chuck Norris than James Hetfield after all---which really is okay, at this point!----but if he ever managed to give his Nashville Cats in black more than Music Row's latest angles, arcs and novelty songs--sure would be good to hear them rise to the occasion, rather than have to hold back just a little too obviously, by sounding so ferocious so on cue----so as not to upstage the guy up front.
That can happen live, when everything isn't mixed beyond perfectly, but go for whatever you go for, and be prepared to stay for the band (do brace yourself for the worst-"sung" version of "Talladega" you can imagine, and then some). Still, considering the heavy, agile, always attentive playing, and the clever gimmicks of most songs, and of course Church's adequate studio delivery, overall it's an Hon. Mention (much more consistently listenable than Florida-Georgia, for inst.)
PS: "Talladega" seems to be nostalgic for bros drinking and driving, on some occasions, so touching all bases---and most songs address how "you" make him feel, much more than touching on whoever, whatever you may be otherwise (whereever? Mostly real close, or real gone, to/from vicinity of the monologue). Not even any "By the time I get to Phoenix she'll be risin'", no wondering what Bro's doin' now, or would be if he hadn't crashed, no "I drive his truck"---no trucks, as prev. mentioned. And no blood relatives, other than a son you thugs, mugs, dealers of drugs better not touch, or "(little smirk)I'll let the Dark Side out to play..." (darkwing music in background)
So it's all at least as self-involved as a lot of male-sung mainstream pop country, which is to say, as a lot of country, whatever the special sauce.

John Fullbright has the aural presence, the apparently jes-grew flair of  fellow Okies Garth Brooks, Toby Keith, and sometimes carried-away Carrie Underwood. But also, maybe with an ear to the  calm, magnetic vibe (not for all the people, but all the people can't be right all of the time) of Woody Guthrie, and the longevity of Okie-once-removed Merle the Hag's best work, he knows about the appeal of self-restraint, providing you've really got something to restrain. So, he breaks his projection into succinct sincerity, applying the reins as he starts to rise (a little wry twist, tightening the jaw and nostrils as he starts to wail, biting the words to make sure they jump a little more).

Good thing, because he knows he could make it on this sound times glib sentiment, each one alibi-ing the other.Especially since, when he adds drums, and keeps the keys, he doesn't even need a balancing act, he could just hit like country-as-early-70s-Top Forty, in there between Tumbleweed Junction Elton John and, say, Albert "It Never Rains In California" Hammond. We know he knows, because, early on Songs, he's got this song within a song within a song, seems like, where he starts out hoping to get by another day without a cliche, and then goes into several cliches, culminating with "keep hope alive." Then brood on a while, and suddenly he's "Little Lord Fauntleroy/In a La-Z Boy/Tryin' to keep hope alive." But past the irony and self-mockery and self=pity, he seems like he does want and feel the need to keep hope alive.
So, I'm thinking this, and *then* he actually comes up with one about "Writing a song/About a song/Write a line about the line within the line"! But again, not just round and round the navel, he's also thinking about "living the life you wanna live," like implying, is this--which amounts to living a life that's about living a life---The Purpose_Driven Life, yes thank you Rev. Rick Warren--is this any more or less something than writing a song about a song etc.? Maybe too good a question!
Anyway, he then hauls out the drums for good radio bait relief, then gets kind of abjectly romantic while of course still sounding good(but not quite good enough to cover the weepier lines), and then, just as my increasing discontent became aware of missing the perspective-finding shifts between first and third person, re the sometimes scary and always ambitious From The Ground Up(2012), he (spoiler alert) got his gears back together. But it was a close call, and there's still-smelly valentines in some of the previous songs, which may drive me away from many future listens. Though at the very least, it's yet another good(in this case, good-to-killer) EP trapped in an album's body. We'll see.

Marty Stuart's Saturday Night & Sunday Morning: Sunday morning's actually more fun, and not just cos Saturday's so bad. Although, of these 22 tracks, the ones to ditch are all from the night out or in, often pretty humdrum, and begging comparison to actual or ersatz (catchier either way) jukebox chestnuts, with no drink-my-wife/life-away implosions or abandon, much less sheer YEEHAW--exceptions to the former: good cover of Charlie and Margaret Ann Rich's "Life Has Its Little Ups and Downs" (here as "Life's Ups and Downs"); veering toward look-out-now in "Look At That Girl", which jangles that mid-60s Bakersfield-to-British Invasion connection, Yoakam-style. "Streamline" is okay too--but "Uncloudy Day," with Mavis Staples, is where we step up into the tremolo shadow of Pop Staples, with shards of light from sharp notes, and richer, more fluid singing, often enough, even from Marty, who tends to be too mild in the secular settings (been strictly committed to the life sanitary for quite a while now)
"Boogie Woogie Down The Jerico Road" maybe winks at own selling the roots to Starbucks generations: good job both ways, here and elsewhere; we even encounter some organic Bo Diddly tendencies later on, and "Good News" is a Link Wray-worthy instrumental, at least re the elder and elderly (well-preserved) Brother Link. "Cathedral" is more of that affectionately serious fun.
Or as we say on Twitter:
Marty Stuart SN/SM: 22 tracks/15 keepers, often in Pop Staples' tremolo shadow, recycling shards of light, hydroelectric country soul

Terri Clark, Some Songs: "Some songs/Need air/Some songs/Need a girl." Yep,'n' some need the return of the No-BS Canadian Queen of Hat Country, with just enough of ye olde rodeo/hangar clangor, Chris LeDoux's pioneer prescription of "Aerosmith in a cowboy hat," balanced by her own, sometimes romantic, often dry POV: you gave her your word, darlin---riiight, she heard that, "So I took it down town and I cheated on you," how do like them onions? She's been around, and is still ready get some messy details on the fresh white T; more where that came from. And her new theme song is the typically forthright "Better With My Boots On." Others incl. "Here Comes Crazy," "Don't Start," "Wheels Down," "Bad Car," "Just Add Water," and "Feelin' Pretty Good Right Now." If you need some car music for holiday travel (to see The Interview, to buy the new Garth at Wal-Mart, etc.), try this, and her Greatest Hits 1994-2004, whether or not you can find that "worn-out tape of Chris LeDoux" (Hi Garth, who is not on $P0T1fy, so won't get considerd by me in this poll, unless I find a nice-priced used CD).

That there Carlene album, Carter Girl, is something I'm not totally into yet. but it certainly is better than I feared, when I heard she was going to salute the roots, with Carter Family chestnuts. I mostly know her from my ancient, scruffy-sounding twofer, Musical Shapes & Blue Nun, where she and Nick Lowe tried for Bakersfield/Beatles (and I guess Rockpile)appeal: rocking country, rather than country-rock, Also, she had a rave-up with NRBQ-to-Nashville guitarist-songwriter Al Anderson on Austin City Limits. This album, produced by Don Was mixes old and new songs and beats in an overcast atmosphere, never anachronistic nor murky. The rhythm can be a guide, though not a cheerleader, in "Lonesome Valley 2003," where she goes to and from several funerals, and it (mainly bass) even slaps butts on "Me and the Wildwood Rose," a road song about childhood rolling with Carter ladies and little sister Rosey, later a true desperado (track record not mentioned, but the song visits her funeral). Carlene and Elizabeth Cook leave a life of crime to settle down, attended by angels and what sounds like a tumbleweed full of mechanical bulls. Elsewhere, she may lope or trot or (once) waltz through variously challenging situations, incl. those associated with outlaws, but she's always adapting, with no self-congratulation.
Hey:just give her those flowers right now, even if you think, with her own track record, you might not have long to wait for yet another send-off; and furthermore, "Kind words are no good/In a bed too narrow." Lots of family, incl. Johnny and June, sing along on the finale, "I Ain't Gonna Work Tomorrow," where she's ditched again, but on the other hand, see title; and also, "Pretty girls are dancin' on the cold, cold ground," so that helps too (far as I'm concerned).

This Is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes 1983---blasting their club set in a good li'l studio. No stereo-typical 80s glitz; like the booklet says, "quick and dirty," never blurry, though a few of the originals could use more well-thought-out trad lifts/folk process, a la "Soap Soup And Salvation," which makes well-timed use of "When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder" without getting mawkish; good speedy, confident cover of "Jackson" too. "This Is World Is Not My Home" goes from Carter Family/Woody G. rumination to poignant-with-a-beat "Soap"-style convocation to whooo, ready to meet them angels with sum white line fever (this would be the punkabilly or cowpunk, I take it).

Oh yeah, and Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy turns out to be surprisingly lively-- not because of Phil's health probs, but mine: I was bored dead by a box of BBB several years ago. Phil's in fine voice, Dave sings okay, and of course plays his ass off, but only to enhance the material, as well he might. Gene Taylor tickles the ivories, and---although guests like LJ's Don Heffington also keep the rhythm section reet---can't help wishing they'd gotten Bazz and Bateman (who have often been live Blasters with Phil) back in there. But making it a full-fledged Blasters album---suggested title: Broonzy--- might bring back a lot of bad blood, which even seemed like it might bubble up in a couple moments of P&D's recent and v. brotherly Fresh Air interview. Common Ground AKA Truce, eh? I'll take it.

Get In Union, by Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers, covers a fair amount of ground (and sea)(and sky, at all times). Work songs, play songs, several kinds of play, and Bible songs: don't know how these last relate to the mainstream of spirituals---pretty sure they go back past what music historians designate as gospel, for the most part. But they are visions, scenes, stories from the Bible, as lived---some levels in there, like maybe if you wanted to add more of the black experience to Divided & United: Songs of the Civil War. Or your own start-from-scratch mixes: there's a lot of lilt, roll, strictness and flexibility. And speaking of living, the title track is one of those with acerbic comments on behavior/attitudes in the congregation (not that some of the play songs aren't uppity; life on islands might get crowded).
Verdict:  fairly often compelling, rarely less than charming (I'd say "never less," but my attention does wander sometimes, when lyrics and performances get too much like lessons)(mind you, I'm just kinda taking a bus ride with The Brothers Karamazov these days).

From Nashville, not LA, but def adding to the tiny, out-behind-the-barn cowpunk pantheon: Jason & The Scorchers roll through Irving Plaza, live for local radio and recording for King Biscuit Flour or Flower Hour's syndicated source of so much liberated goodness. '84, "we just signed with EMI-American," fresh 'n' fuzztone-branded, slamming back and forth in the cattle car, with every song I can recall, except "Both Sides of the Line." Not too fast or slow, only 41'21 seconds, though intense enough that I had to take a short break halfway through, which is rare. Only prob: Jason's vocals are so wholesome, he sometimes makes zingers and sexual sour grapes come across like light breakfast materials, but doesn't misplace the caffeine, and certainly nails the stood-up "how could this happen to Meeee?!" of Kid D.'s "Absolutely Sweet Marie."

Finally starting to catch up to someone I only heard about from querying other balloteers’ choices: New Zealand’s Tami Neilson, whose The Kitchen Table Sessions Vol.2 takes me through each note and syllable, like Raitt at her best, though actual sound is more like Ronstadt's voice at times, or Patsy Cline: the deeper, richer stirring of the tones, though she's got a good, unshowy higher range too. (Initial, intermittent  Cline associations foreshadow the finale, an immersive a cappella version of “Sweet Dreams.”)
Despite the title, it's always as produced as it needs to be: mostly jangly country-folk-rock, in a late-60s/dawn of the 70s way---polished, but never slick or pedantic---though the "kitchen table" thing does apply re sittin' and thinkin', confidentially direct address. It's actually about getting up and leaving home (following a guy pretty far, in some songs). She finds that home hasn't left her in "This Town": if she gets off the bus and you're there, you suck. You're a citizen, a resident,  "standin' still while I crashed and burned," like the guy in the last town, and the first town, where prying eyes incl. sympathetic ones, were and always will be too much. "The first thing I'll do when I get to this town/Is leave." Even more effective for following the sweetest, yet maybe most complex song,"Great Day," where she seems totally and happily at home, incl. with the measure of  pleasures, not yet too pricey: "The boy who stole a kiss and never gave it back/Still it's alright he makes me laugh," which is just another part of  "a great day to be loved"---by everybody in this hometown, most likely. She’s that magnetic. Yet in the way she holds certain notes and and lets them change, there's a calling, a yearning for more, even/especially while she's luxuriating in love and the sounds she can make, with her young powers a-buddin.'
Oh yeah, and in between those two songs, there's the persistent pursuit of "One Thing," not too fast, but she's growing vocal (and a few other) overdubs without missing a beat, in a way I don't think I've ever heard anybody else do.
Not that every track has the impact of the ones I’ve mentioned, but still.



02.2004 / 03.2004 / 04.2004 / 05.2004 / 06.2004 / 07.2004 / 08.2004 / 09.2004 / 10.2004 / 11.2004 / 12.2004 / 01.2005 / 02.2005 / 03.2005 / 04.2005 / 06.2005 / 07.2005 / 09.2005 / 10.2005 / 11.2005 / 12.2005 / 01.2006 / 02.2006 / 03.2006 / 04.2006 / 05.2006 / 06.2006 / 07.2006 / 09.2006 / 10.2006 / 12.2006 / 01.2007 / 02.2007 / 03.2007 / 09.2007 / 12.2007 / 02.2008 / 03.2008 / 04.2008 / 06.2008 / 08.2008 / 09.2008 / 06.2009 / 07.2009 / 06.2010 / 11.2010 / 12.2010 / 01.2011 / 05.2011 / 01.2012 / 02.2012 / 03.2012 / 09.2012 / 10.2012 / 11.2012 / 01.2013 / 11.2013 / 01.2014 / 02.2014 / 08.2014 / 01.2015 / 01.2016 / 05.2016 / 06.2016 / 01.2017 / 04.2017 / 07.2017 / 08.2017 / 11.2017 / 03.2018 / 07.2019 / 09.2019 / 01.2020 / 02.2020 / 10.2020 / 01.2021 / 05.2021 / 08.2021 / 01.2022 / 02.2022 / 03.2022 / 04.2022 / 05.2022 / 06.2022 / 02.2023 / 08.2023 /

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