January 2, 2020
Willie Nelson released his first studio album in 1862 and now, 56 years later, at the age of 85, shows no sign of slowing down. My Way is his 12th release since 2010.
Nelson’s new album, as the title suggests, is an album of songs made famous by Frank Sinatra. He is one of the few living artists who could even attempt an album of this type as Sinatra made just about any song his own and his versions are considered definitive.
Nelson is an iconic country artist but has moved in a pop and easy listening direction on a number of occasions. His voice may not be as strong as in the past but it has acquired a nice patina. He brings a weariness and nostalgia to the songs as opposed to Sinatra’s smoothness.
Nelson has always had impeccable phrasing and that serves him well on covers such as the title song, “It Was A Very Good Year,” “Summer Wind,” and “Fly Me To The Moon.”
Possibly the best track is “One For My Baby (And One For The Road), which is closer to the original. The most interesting track is a duet with Norah Jones on ‘What Is This Thing Called Love,” which gives it a different spin.
This is not country Willie; this is the Great American Songbook Willie. Sinatra’s originals are always worth a listen but Nelson does a credible job providing a different take on many of these classic tunes.
July 5, 2019
I have always had a soft spot for guitarists and especially steel guitarists, which brings us to Joe Goldmark. Now four decades into his career, he has emerged as one of the better steel guitarists working today. Wile his technical ability is first rate, it is the sound he can coax from his instrument that sets him apart.
His new album, Blue Steel, is a combination of original tunes and covers. He also uses guest vocalists Glenn Walters and Dallas Craft on a number of tracks but the instrumental tracks are the heart of the release.
The album opening “Night Flight” and a cover of Bob Marley’s “Natty Dread” feature his unique approach of having his steel guitar as the lead instrument. “I Want To Be With You Forever,” with guest guitarist Jim Campilongo, has nice interplay between the two and creates a wonderfully plaintive sound.
Blue Steel may not have mainstream appeal but within its niche, it shines.
July 5, 2019
Peter Rowan was born in Massachusetts, which is not a state you usually associate with a bluegrass legend. At the age of 20, he auditioned and won the position of lead guitarist/vocalist in Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys.
During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s he played rock and roll as a member of Earth Opera, The Rowan Brothers, Seatrain, and for a short spell with Jerry Garcia. His solo career has incorporated a number of styles but he remains a bluegrass artist in his soul.
His new album returns him to his roots. The Stanley Brothers, Carter and Ralph, were early influences and Carter Stanley’s Eyes is a heart felt tribute to them. While he records two of their tunes; Carter’s “A Vision Of Mother” and Ralph’s “Ridin’ On That Midnight Train,” he channels their style through the 14 tracks.
Rowan is now in his mid 70s and a number of songs deal with mortality. “Drumbeats On The Watchtower” is a song of aging and acceptance that only a person of his age could compose. The Carter “Will You Miss Me” is partly sung without instruments as he ruminates about the world without him in it.
There are a couple tunes where he fuses different styles to bluegrass. The gospel song, “The Crown He Wore,” connects the two closely associated disciplines. Ledbelly’s “Alabama Bound” has a nice blues feel within the parameters of bluegrass instrumentation.
The Carter Brothers helped Rowan to hone his bluegrass skills and in many ways the direction of his life. Carter Stanley’s Eyes is a payment for lessons well-learned.
June 24, 2018
Many artists who have been active for decades, both dead and alive, seem to have an unlimited reservoir of unreleased material. Prince has a treasure trove in the Paisley Park vaults, Elvis has the RCA archives, Dylan has his seemingly endless Bootleg Series, and Willie Nelson has his stash.
Thus far, Nelson’s archival series has been a family affair. The first release from his stash was December Day with his sister Bobbie. Now comes Willie And The Boys: Willie’s Stash Volume 2, which features sons Lucas and Micah.
Nelson describes the album as…’kinda like the country version of ‘Stardust’ and that is an apt description. It consists of classic country songs that many people are unfamiliar with these days.
The album’s core is seven compositions by Hank Williams Sr. Songs such as “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Cold Cold Heart,” “Why Don’t You Love Me’ and particularly “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” are perfect for Nelson’s laid back approach and cadence.
Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On,” Hank Cochran’s “Can I Sleep In Your Arms,” and Hank Locklin’s “Send me The Pillow You Dream On” are re-imagined by one of the great interpreter’s of country music. The only original tune is Nelson’s “Healing Hands Of Time,” which fits the overall concept of the album well.
The vinyl pressing has a superb sound as one would expect with modern day recording techniques. There is something to be said for listening to classic country the old fashioned way.
Willie Nelson is like “Old Man River” in that he just keeps flowing along. Willie Nelson And The Boys is a fine album that makes one wonder what else is lurking in his stash.
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.
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.
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.
January 23, 2017
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.
December 27, 2016
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.