On Safari By The Kentucky Headhunters

March 21, 2017

It has been almost a half-century since vocalist/guitarist Richard Young, drummer Fred Young, and lead guitarist Greg Martin began playing together, Bassist Doug Phelps was an early addition, and they have remained together ever since. It took them nearly 20 years to issue their first album but Pickin’ On Nashville was worth the wait as it sold just over two-million copies.

The Kentucky Headhunters have just released their 12th studio album titled On Safari. Their sound has changed with the passing of time. They have evolved from an electric country band into a southern rock group who incorporate blues into their mix.

Their new album includes ten originals and two covers, Alice Cooper’s “Caught In A Dream” and Charlie Daniel’s “Way Down Yonder.”

It is the ten original compositions that form the heart and soul of the album. They are the type of sold rock and roll that one has come to expect from the Headhunters. “Rainbow Shine,” ”Jukebox Full Of Blues,” and “ “Deep Southern Blues Again” wrap their southern rock roots around a blues foundation. “Beaver Creek Mansion” and   “Lowdown Memphis Town Blues” are a clever look at their own history wrapped in rock and roll.

The Kentucky Headhunters have evolved into one of the great American rock bands. On Safari is another brick in their musical wall.


All Night Live By The Mavericks

March 21, 2017

The career of the Mavericks has passed the quarter-century mark, not counting a nine year hiatus. Founding members Raul Malo (vocals/guitar) and Paul Deakin (drummer) are now joined by Eddie Perez (guitar), and Jerry Dale McFadden (keyboards).

The Mavericks are difficult to pigeon hole stylistically. They cross a lot of musical boundaries as they explore country, rock, blues, and even a little Latin vibe. The one constant is their live shows. They remain one of the best stage bands in American popular music. Their latest album, All Night Live Volume 1, brings their show to CD.

They wisely add some additional musicians to give their live sound some extra flexibility. Michael Guerra (accordion), Mike Abrams (sax), Matt Cappy (trumpet), and Ed Friedland (upright bass) add extra layers and textures to the sound. It all adds up to an energetic romp through 16 of their songs.

My only real problem with the release is the sound. Given the excellence of modern technology, it should have been better and it detracts from the overall enjoyment of the music. A smaller issue is the song section as it comes primarily from two albums. I would have preferred a more career spanning collection.

Other than the above; the album is a good presentation of their energetic live sound. The opening title track is a horn-laden blast that builds as it progresses. They almost move in a big band direction with a swinging version of “Stories We Could Tell.” They move to a blues vibe with the smoldering “Do You Want Me To.” The only cover song is a laid back version of Neil Young’s “Harvest Song.”

All Night Live Volume 1 retains the energy of the Mavericks on stage. Sound aside, it presents live music as it should always be.


Christmas: There’ll Be Peace In The Valley By Johnny Cash

March 16, 2017

A new Johnny Cash release is a part of a series of vinyl-only albums issued by the Legacy label in time for the holiday season.

Christmas: There’ll Be Peace In The Valley comes on the heels of a new Elvis Presley Christmas vinyl release and pales in comparison. The sound is excellent and the individual performances are fine but the album has a cobbled together feel. Cash has a vast catalogue of material to draw from and there are a number of Christmas songs that would have fit together better and given the album a more cohesive feel.

Cash had a unique vocal approach and when applied to the right material; the results are excellent. Songs such as “Mary Christmas Mary,” “The Christmas Spirit,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” and “Christmas Time’s A-Comin,’” are like putty in his hands. On the other hand, “Jingle Bells” and “Blue Christmas” are a bit of a stretch.

The main problems are the “Opening Dialogue,” “The Ballad Of Hap Weaver,” and “(There’ll Be) Peace In The Valley” don’t really fit in with the Christmas theme.

The album is what it is and the individual performances should please any fan of the man in black, especially since they are a unique collectable because of the vinyl format. However, if you are a casual fan of the man in black, there are a number of classic Christmas albums out there.


The Definitive Collection By Porter Wagoner

January 23, 2017

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Porter Wagoner, (1927-2007), was country when country music was really country. During the late 1950’s and through the 1960’s, he placed dozens of songs on the country charts including two number ones, “A Satisfied Mind” and “Misery Loves Company.” His syndicated television show ran from 1961-1981. During the 1970’s, he was Dolly Parton’s regular duet partner. Even his clothes shouted country music.

Real Gone Music has now released a two disc, 40 song collection, which includes all of his country top 40 hits, titled The Definitive Collection. It comes with a booklet, which contains a nice history of Wagoner and his music.

Be well advised; this is not your modern day slick pop/rock country music. It is classic old-time country with songs of love lost, hard drinking, and painful lessons of life. While the sound has been enhanced through modern technology; the music is from another era and will appeal to fans of the post-Hank Williams time period.

Wagoner always had a smooth delivery that could tell a story. He mainly relies on ballads and they still draw the listener into the world he has created through his music. He rarely wrote his own material but was a master of taking other people’s compositions and making them his own.

Songs such as “Trademark,” “Legend Of The Big Steeple,” “Cold Dark Waters” “The First Mrs. Jones,” and “I Just Came To Smell The Flowers” are a country music history lesson.

Porter Wagoner’s The Definitive Collection will only appeal to hard core country aficionados or fans of Wagoner himself.  If you fall into either of those categories; this collection is not only definitive but is a must.


On Top Of Old Smoky: New-Old Time Smoky Mountain Music By Various Artists

December 27, 2016

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Sometimes a creative idea works and such is the case for the third release by The Great Smoky Mountains Association. While they continue their exploration of music originating in the Great Smoky Mountain area of the United States, this time they gather modern day artists to presents a legacy of the area.

The 23 tracks by various artists presents traditional folk music and bluegrass tunes from the Smoky Mountains area. This is a raw and stripped down release and unless you are a fan of this brand of music; many of the artists will not be recognizable. The one every recognizable performer is Dolly Parton who re-visits “Little Rosewood Casket” from her trio days with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. She gives a haunting rendition that carries you back about a century.

The songs can be considered classic folk songs that are indigenous to the area. They represent the cultural heritage of the people who used to populate the area before much of it became a national park. Many of the songs were originally preserved as field recordings by Joseph Sargent Hall in 1939, who was seeking to save the heritage of the region. Now modern technology allows these songs to come to life in a way unimagined at their creation.

“On Top Of Old Smokey” is the first track and is sung a cappella by Carol Elizabeth Jones. It focus’ on the lyrics in a way not usually associated with this old tune and is representative of the album’s approach of preserving the heritage of this old material.

“Black Mountain Rag” with fiddle player Trevor Stuart, banjo player Travis Stuart, and guitarist Jeff Keith and “Bonaparte’s Retreat” by fiddler Bruce Greene are examples of the origins of what was to become bluegrass music. “I Wonder How The Old Folks Are At Home” by singer/guitarist Bryan Sutton is a poignant song of longing for home that was probably sung around the camp fire on a journey.

The enclosed booklet provides a history of the area, plus a review of all 23 songs, the artists, and includes the lyrics as well.

On Top Of Old Smoky: New Old-Time Smoky Mountain Music is a trip back in time for anyone interested in the musical heritage of an area of the United States. A labor of love that works.


Man In Black: Live In Denmark By Johnny Cash

September 19, 2016

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Johnny Cash is one of the corner stones of American country music. From his early days with the legendary Sun label until his death close to five decades later, he was a pillar of country music and a part of American culture.

He had a popular television show and his tours the last 30 years of his life reflected the format of that show. His concerts consisted of his solo songs interspersed among performances by his guests.

A number of Cash concerts have been released since his death. Man In Black: Live In Denmark was issued in 2006 as a DVD. Now it comes to CD for the first time.

It is a representative Johnny Cash concert, which makes it so enjoyable. There are no special bells and whistles; just a musician plying his craft.

Cash performs a number of his most recognizable hits including “A Boy Named Sue,” “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” “I Walk The Line,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “and “Man In Black,” which are all presented traditionally. Cash was a straight forward performer with little improvisation but if you want the hit versions of songs, then Cash is a performer for you.

Carl Perkins was the lead guitarist for Cash’s road bands for decades and always performed a few songs. Here it is his old Sun hits “Blue Suede Shows” and “Match Box.” His approach is perfunctionary but the songs are classics.

The Statler Brothers perform “Bed Of Roses” and “Flowers On The Wall,” Again, there is nothing spectacular but just a presentation of the familiar. Three duets with his wife June, including their hit “If I Were A Carpenter,” and then the whole Carter Family bring a personal touch to the concert. The concert ends with all the performers taking the stage. They have a gospel feel including an emotional traditional “Rock Of Ages.”

Man In Black” Live In Denmark 1971 is a performance frozen in time. It is one of thousands of typical performances by an extraordinary musician.


Ralph Stanley And The Clinch Mountain Boys By Ralph Stanley

May 14, 2016

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If you are a fan of rock music, or pop, or jazz, or rhythm & blues, then read no further because this is a blue grass review, pure and simple.

Bill Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys may have created the blue grass music form, but Ralph and Carter Stanley were close behind. The Stanley Brothers performed together from 1946 until Carter’s death in 1966 at the age of 41. Ralph and his Clinch Mountain Boys have continued on to the present day. Now 88 years old, Ralph Stanley is one of the very last of the original blue grass musicians.

During his 70 year career, Ralph Stanley has produced an estimated 1200 recordings and recorded for many different labels. During 1971 he was part of three albums recorded for the Jessup label. Those three albums form the basis for his latest release The Complete Jessup Recordings Plus.

One evening when Stanley was late for a concert, he found high school seniors Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley performing his songs until he arrived. Taking them under his wing, they recorded together for Jessup. Skaggs and Whitley released Tribute To The Stanley Brothers, which was later retitled Ralph Stanley And The Clinch Mountain Boys Featuring Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley. The other tracks are culled from the albums Sing Michigan Blue Grass and Gospel Blue Grass, which also included Skaggs and Whitley.

The music is traditional and very raw by today’s standards. Its roots are in the hills of the south where it was played on wash boards, boxes, and spoons. Stanley is one of America’s legendary banjo players and his voice is pure old-style country. In addition to guitarist/vocalist Whitley and mandolin player/vocalist Skaggs, he is joined by guitarist Roy Lee Centers, fiddle player Curly Ray Cline, and bassist Jack Cooke. Cline and Cooke continue to record and tour with Stanley.

Musically and lyrically, blue grass music chronicles a way of life. “Are You Proud Of America” and “Let’s Keep Old Glory Waving” were released in August, 1971, while the Vietnam War was raging and the student protest movement was in full flower. The gospel music is straight forward and out of the Christian tradition. It formed an important part of both the Stanley Brothers and Ralph Stanley’s solo catalogue with Roy Lee Centers providing the harmonies in place of the deceased Carter. “In Heaven We’ll Never Grow Old,” “Wings Of Angels,” “Masters Bouquet,” and “White Dove” are all out of a southern prayer meeting.

Ralph Stanley is a legend within his musical niche. He recently received the National Medal Of Arts and a Doctorate of Music from Yale. He is a rare artist who never tried to fit in with the musical trends of the day. Through the British Invasion, disco era, grunge, and modern country; he has continued to produce his brand of mountain blue grass. If you are a fan of the blue grass style, then this glimpse into the mind and style of Ralph Stanley is a must.