Home | Music Row Report | Music Reviews | Book Reviews | Paid Content | Contact

The Official Website of Stacy Harris 

Copyright © 2013
Stacy's Music Row Report  All Rights Reserved

` Ask an Expert - Visit my Virtual Office at LivePerson

Picks & Pans

With Nashville's Top Music Critic, Stacy Harris

A little "housekeeping": I welcome the receipt of and will review just about all NEW product received. (Contact me for an explanation if you think there might be extenuating circumstances.)  Major or independent label. It makes no difference.

That said, my unique, open door policy requires, in fairness to all, that product be evaluated and reviews posted in the order in which submissions have been received.

Ground rule: I don't do downloads.  

If a review peaks your curiosity, please consider sampling/and or making a purchase through its Amazon cover art link. Commissions I earn through your purchases make updates possible.

A link without artwork indicates cover art has not been supplied to Amazon. The absence of a link indicates that Amazon does not distribute the CD.

Stacy's Ratings


**** Good

*** Promising

** Fair

*Makes A Good Coaster

John Lowell  

I Am Going To The West

Rating  ***** 

A terrific singer, songwriter and musician, John Lowell is not only a triple-threat talent, he is an example of true artistry of the variety that endures if not that which continues dominates the charts in the absence of other compelling, albeit irrelevant, considerations such as youth and sex appeal. 

To be sure, Lowell is the “voice” of experience gleaned first as a founding member of Kayne’s River.  The bluegrass band’s imprint continues to be heard in some of John’s songs just as his penchant for traditional country music (of the self-written variety) is evinced by many of the Lowell-penned selections (including the title song) found here.

John’s solo project is gaining attention even as he continues as a current member of the acoustic duo (with Ben Winship), The Growing Old Men.


Blessed with a “legitimate” voice reminiscent of John Denver, John Lowell is an observer blessed with the ability to recount both what he has witnessed and what he has imagined with vivid lyrics and engrossing themes.


Whether it’s exploring divergent directions of Sarah Hogan or Laura Foster, (the latter with its lyrical and musical references to that Tom Dooley), Lowell’s unique cover of Eight More Miles to Louisville, or simply John’s painful portrait of adultery (Am I Not Enough) Lowell sustains the attention of his listener.

Lisa Matasssa  

Somebody's Baby (EP)

Rating **** 1/2

Lisa Matassa's arresting voice and title song get a listener's reaction from the get-go.

Somebody's Baby (written by Kelly Archer, Casey Koesel and Justin Weaver) has the distinction of both opening this eclectic extended play album and serving as the EP's closer in the form of a bonus "official video" version of the upbeat reminder of just how special each of us is to someone else.

Wouldn't You Like To Know, the most creatively-written lyric found here,  is one of three songs (the others being Girl With a Rock N Roll Heart and Learning as Your Grow)  that showcase Lisa's skills as a co-writer. (Matassa's collaborators, in the first two instances, are Don Rollins and Jody Gray, while Lisa and Don also wrote with Joey Sykes.)

Lisa goes from exploring musical themes addressing men's curiosity about barroom-driven girl talk, the special attributes of girls who rock and the acquired wisdom that comes without a guidebook, to covering three classic songs: Bryan Adams' Heaven, Dolly Parton's I Will Always Love You (a live recording)  and Mel
Tormé's The Christmas Song.

While none of these classics cries out to be covered (Matassa is not the first artist to cover any of these songs), Lisa manages to make each her own in a way that preserves the compositions' appeal for an increasingly younger demographic that may not remember other cover versions, let alone the originals!

Fiddler Tim Smith

  & Friends

Rating **** 1/2

1978 World Champion Fiddler Tim Smith and his friends (Wayne Benson, mandolin; Eric Ellis, banjo; David Guthrie, vocals; David Hall, clawhammer banjo and steel guitar; Jeff Huffman, guitar;  Clyde Mattox, dobro; Will McIntyre, vocals and acoustic bass; Zachary McLamb, acoustic bass; Wyatt Rice, guitar; and Andrew Smith, guitar) showcase their collective talent with this 15-song collection of bluegrass, blues and gospel favorites.

Tim draws on a wide range of instrumental music ranging from public domain favorites (Cattle in the Cane, Just A Closer Walk With Thee, Whiskey Before Breakfast, Hamilton County Breakdown) and Bill Monroe’s Ashland Breakdown  to Smith’s original material (Lakota Land, Double Play, Oklahoma Road, Old New River, Badland Blues, Twin Oaks and Tater Town).

Vocal performances are not totally absent here.  David Guthrie’s vocals highlight the performance of Broadway Limited (a Smith-Guthrie co-write).  Listeners will likewise want to sing along on Kokomo Arnold’s Milk Cow Blues and Tim’s rendition of Hank Williams’ I Saw the Light.  



Rating ****   

As I have previously written, LiveWire's Lies is "the best single I've heard all year."

My reaction followed the single's release.  As I noted, one of the sextet's acoustic guitarists, lead singer Andy Eutsler, who wrote Lies, is "one heckuva songwriter."

With Livewire's release of Livin', my introduction to the group (which also includes lead electric and acoustic guitarist Bobby DeGonia, fiddler Cory Schultz, drummer Adam Hagerman, bassist Landon Rolfe and electric, rhythm and acoustic guitarist Danny Bell)  and to Andy's songwriting has increased my appreciation of their talent. 

Andy wrote the title song, a commentary on what represents the good life, depending upon one's vantage point, maturity, etc. as well as I'll Go To Prison, a dark, testosterone-filled threat, promise, expression of defensive love for family or morality play, depending upon whether the listener takes the message as bluster or the end result of provocation.

The balance of these songs are seemingly designed to be radio-friendly.  Not that there's anything wrong that, but the depth and originality of Eutstler's songs set a pretty high benchmark. 

This is not to say, as is so many times said about a lead singer, that, in reality, s/he is the group.  All six members of LiveWire are integral to the group's sound and their performances of each of these songs, 10 in all, are faultless

Rather, this group can only play to its strengths as it is able to articulate them.  Danny Bell's songs (History and, to a lesser extent, What Makes You A Man) show promise and I'd be interested to see on LiveWire's next CD what a songwriting collaboration between Eutstler and Bell might look like.

Miss Tess  

Sweet Talk

Rating ****   

This CD was sent to me in care of an old affiliation at an old address but when the postmaster forwarded it to me I decided to review the music on its merits, anyway.

Not that, at first glance, anyway, I understood why this CD was ever sent to me.  After all, most of the 10 songs on Sweet Talk (all but one either written or co-written by Miss Tess)  suggest that Miss Tess’ musical influences tilt more jazz and blues than country. 

Don’t Tell Mama, the album opener, is not a Gary Allan cover.  Nor is it even the familiar song fans of the Cabaret soundtrack may expect.  Rather it’s a musical imperative expressed during the moment of sobriety that inevitably follows an arguable lapse in judgment.

New Orleans is not an Eddie Hodges cover, but rather Miss Tess’ tribute to Cajun country.  The Affair evokes a universal theme with all of the ambivalence of a cheatin’ song, but, it too, is not country music.

While other reviews find this album more of a mixed bag than I do,  I don’t feel a lyrical reference to a blue-eyed Tennessean, for instance, makes  Everybody’s Darling a country song, even if the title brings to mind several country-music variants on that title.

People Come Here For Gold is one of the best, certainly most original songs on Sweet Talk, while Save Me St. Peter satisfies the listener looking for country music.

Miss Tess closes with her cover of the Ink Spots’ (and, yes, Eddy Arnold’s recording) of I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire.

Jim Reeves

  The New Recordings

Rating ***** 

Don’t be thrown by the title.   Though on paper it might appear that a 2-CD set released 48 years after Jim Reeves’ death, especially one with the word “new” in the title, might reek of the type of exploitation associated with reissues of an artist’s work, not to mention squeezing the last penny out of what a dead artist might have, intentionally or not, left in the can, that assumption is this case is as unfair as it would be misleading.

To begin with, Jim Reeves: The New Recordings is not a greatest hits (or even misses) collection.  Rather, the 42 songs found here, thanks to new technology, with an occasional demonstrable audible bow to the imperfections of the old, are used to supplement a narrative that is intended as a companion guide to Larry Jordan’s awarding-winning 672-page book, Jim Reeves: His Untold Story.

But in an age of instant gratification and diminishing attention spans, a nation of readers has, at best, slowly been usurped by an audio book culture.  So while these CDs are not the audio version of Jordan’s book, they are a great marketing tool for the tome, even as this venture can be enjoyed independently of the book project.

The CD kicks off with a cold opening:  Reeves’ spoken greeting. Then, amid an instrumental background, voiceover veteran Dan Hurst sets the table by informing listeners, as the music trails off, that they are “about to embark on a musical journey through time.  Hurst tells Reeves’ story in chronological order, punctuating the narrative not only Jim’s most familiar songs, but also “rare and previously unreleased material.”  Some of the recordings have been “stripped down to the bare essentials” and “digitally remastered” for “better clarity” and, in the opinion of those associated with the project, “updated with tasteful new accompaniments,” (replete with both the pros and cons of say, colorizing, black & white movie classics) courtesy of Larry Jordan.

While, as Paul Harvey said, “the hen that lays the golden egg has a perfect right to cackle,” some of Hurst’s statements such as “Your ears are in for a treat,” while true, seem at best superfluous when, as always, the popularity of Reeves music speaks for itself.

While some of the musical selections have been excerpted (e.g., Mexican Joe runs only 48 seconds), like some of the interviews likewise presented, there’s no reason to question the judgment call.  After all, proper pacing is as important to an enterprise of this magnitude as is the mix of  various audio components- Jim’s studio hits, his “live” recordings,  the Blue Boys’ instrumental performance of Wheels,  Dan’s narration, Larry’s commentary, Jim’s audio diaries, separately recorded interviews with Jim and Mary Reeves,  Jim’s acting as a commercial  pitchman,  (breaking) news reports-  that serve to provide both narrative and transition.

Famous during his lifetime for recording and releasing duets with Ginny Wright and Dottie West, Reeves’ posthumous pairings with Patsy Cline and Deborah Allen have been variously hailed as the logical outcome of then-new technology and dismissed as novelty numbers- or worse- by purists and critics.

This project finds Barbi Franklin, no stranger to duets and a fine singer in her own right, game, as it is Franklin's vocals that are featured on yet another posthumous pairing:  Reeves’ recordings of Making Believe and  How’s The World Treating You?     (Listen for Barbi’s solo on Jim’s recording of Someday.)

At least one error in Jordan’ book has been corrected (though an opportunity was missed to note same as the correction is uncredited) within the context of Larry's commentary for this recording.  Jordan’s passion for his subject really comes through in those asides.

So- it should come as no surprise that, once again, Larry Jordan has outdone himself with yet another labor of love.

Given storage limitations, I give away most of the promotional records I receive.  It some cases that’s an easy thing to do, in others my wants are not options. 

But just as I won’t part with Larry’s book, because it is an historical treasure- Jim Reeves: The New Recordings (a must purchase for rabid Reeves fans and well as an inspired choice for fans of good music) a is a keeper!

Hangin With Stogie

  Summer All Year Long

Rating ***** 

Hangin with Stogie might seem apostrophe-challenged (the name of the band is, itself, derived from what was initially, at least, an inside joke that name-checked a dog that could easily serve as the girls’ mascot).  But the Fredericksburg, Virginia teen-aged trio (Christina Reese- drums, cello, piano, vocals;  Kylie Westerbeck- bass, ukulele, vocals;  Megan Green- guitar, lead vocals) is up to the greater challenge of taking Music Row by storm.

To wit: Summer All Year Long is a nine-song collection of original material, save for an unexpected arrangement of Bob Dylan’s It Ain’t Me Babe.   The former is also the title song (a wistful, feel good, potential seasonal recurrent) while the latter commands the listener’s attention as much or more than the work of that subset of the legions of other artists  (Dino, Desi & Billy and Johnny Cash and June Carter come to mind) whose interpretations served to put their original stamps on Dylan’s classic.

The other seven songs are likewise compelling.  The lighter fare will resonate most with Taylor Swift’s fan base (hardly a surprise, since Swift is one of the girls’ musical influences) but, as with some of Taylor’s compositions, there is a noticeable maturity seemingly beyond the singers’ years, evident in the choice of songs rounding out the album.   

Listeners have Jeff Silverman (who oversaw the final mixing and mastering of this recording at Nashville’s Palette Studio) to thank for bringing Hangin with Stogie to my attention.  Jeff also sent me a copy of Christina Reese's first solo effort; (a pop remake of a song Silverman co-wrote with Pamela Phillips Oland),  Debra Lyn’s seasonal favorite, Save the Mistletoe for Me.

Andy Reese (who directed me to the band's website, the aptly-named hanginwithstogie.com, and is one of the girls' biggest supporters) is the proud father of Christina who, by the way, at 13, is Hangin with Stogie's youngest member!

  The One You Love (Radio Edit)

Rating ***** 

If you liked The Kentucky Headhunters, you'll enjoy Flynnville Train.

The Headhunters' Richard Young, Fred Young and Doug Phelps wrote The One You  Love and the Doug Phelps production is fast becoming a favorite with Flynnville Train (Tommy Bales, drums; Brian Flynn, lead vocals; Brent Flynn, guitar; Joseph Shreve, bass, vocals) fans.  The song is variously a lyrical plea and/or ultimatum for a sign of commitment from the protagonist's significant other.

The verdict?  I'm on board!


Rating **** 1/2  

If the listener can get past the fact that this 11-song digitally-mastered compilation omits Okie from Muskogee (significant, because for over 40 years Merle Haggard has performed his signature song, depending on the era and venue, with varying degrees of earnestness and tongue-in-cheek humor).

Haggard’s hits span over 45 years and are far too numerous to include on a one CD, but this package is a good “fix” for fans who can’t get enough of If We’re Not Back in Love By Monday,  It’s Been a Great Afternoon and   Ramblin’ Fever, as well as Merle’s display of his more contemplative side with songs like I’m Always On a Mountain When I Fall, Misery and Gin, The Way I Am and I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.

 The Kris Kristofferson-inspired Red Bandana and the Hag’s tribute to Elvis Presley, From Graceland to the Promised Land, also included as are “live” versions of Rainbow Stew and Red Bandana.


Rating ***** 

The first thing that strikes this writer about this 11-song hits compilation is the reminder that Marty has accumulated that many hits.  Whether or not this makes Stuart’s status truly iconic is a matter that MCA Nashville has settled- at least for marketing purposes.

Similarly, with album notes indicating that Marty wrote six or co-wrote six of these songs, the listener is reminded of just how commercially popular Stuart is as a songwriter.

Burn Me Down sets the stage for performances that rock rather than suggest Marty has any interest in becoming a balladeer.  Now That’s Country, Stuart’s musical statement about his roots and that of the music he loves, is followed by his take on Don’t Be Cruel (To A Heart That’s True), which unlike, Elvis Presley’s original, is most memorable for an absence of The Jordanaires.

Tempted, Kiss Me I’m Gone, as expected, High on a Mountain Top, You Can’t Stop Love and Thanks to You- they’re all here- but it’s the combination of Marty’s vocal and the background vocals that make the chorus of Western Girls stick in the listener’s head.  

Stuart’s signature song, Hillbilly Rock, rounds out these enjoyable moments of classic recordings. The undisputed "Father of Bluegrass Music," William Smith Monroe attained "icon" status early on.  As a result, Monroe had and has scores of musical acolytes, apostles, admirers and even imitators; some of them who clearly have learned from the Master.


Rating ***** 

The undisputed "Father of Bluegrass Music," William Smith Monroe attained "icon" status early on.  As a result, Monroe had and has scores of musical acolytes, apostles, admirers and even imitators; some of them who clearly have learned from the Master.

But why settle for less when you can enjoy the real thing?

This newly-issued 11-song compilation of early Bill Monroe recordings opens with Bill's bluegrass version of I Saw The Light. New Mule Skinner Blues solidifies the CD's bluegrass sensibilities while Bill's avuncular tribute to Uncle Pen is a classic Monroe performance.

The inclusion of Kentucky Waltz and Footprints in the Snow will gladden diehard Monroe fans as will Bill's universally popular recordings Walk Softly On My Heart, In the Pines and Blue Moon of Kentucky.  The Country Music Hall of Fame "lifted' its marketing slogan from the title of Bill's I'm Workin' On A Building and the CD concludes with Bill Monroe's timeless performances of Gotta Travel On and Roll On Buddy Roll On.

  New Day Dawning

Rating ***** 

The Roys new extended play CD features Still Standing, memorable not only for its message in the wake of heartbreak that taking personal inventory can be a positive experience, but also for its lyric video (a first for the bluegrass genre).  Elaine and Lee co-wrote Still Standing, though one or the other of the siblings co-wrote the remaining tracks with other talented songwriters.

But bluegrass fans will enjoy each of New Day Dawning's seven selections, beginning with the title song, an expression of hope that I wouldn't be surprised to hear being played at political campaign rallies.

Daddy To Me is a poignant eulogy of the much loved and respected departed, offered from his appreciative son's singular  perspective of gratitude.

Windin' Roads is the story of a man who headed from the hills in search of greener grass only to discover that his search for contentment could end only when he headed back to the hills.

Grandpa's Barn reveals a lifetime of memories that stem from a pivotal relationship evoked by a visit to place that hasn't changed much since childhood and the lessons learned at that time.

Living Scrapbook pays tribute to the people in the singers' lives who matter most.

With Fast as We Roll (a song Lee wrote with Brian White and Jaenee Fleenor), I believe the Roys have saved the best for last: a spirited reminder of the silliness and futility of self-imposed stress, most easily abated by taking a step back,  smelling life's roses,  reassessing and refusing to sweat the small stuff.  

  This Time

Rating ****

Report readers remember Mark Tomeo from his erstwhile band, Neon Cactus.  These days Mark brings his talents as a vocalist and musician (pedal steel, Dobro and slide guitar) to Pages of Paul, featuring the songs of Paul Curcuruto. (That's Paul on the acoustic, electric and 12- string guitars as well as the Ace Tone Top 5 organ.)

Lead vocalist Karen Nogle and Rick Buck (vocals, bass, drums, acoustic and electric guitars) round out the Lewisburg, Pennsylvania-based quartet.  (As noted, Nogle's is the pre-eminent "voice" of the band, though it is Curcuruto's gritty lead vocal listeners will enjoy on Every Time I Think of You.)

The title song (not to be confused with the Waylon Jennings classic, though it arguably strikes a similar theme from a female perspective) is one of 12 songs written by Cucuruto, excepting Gone (written by Paul and Robert Cole) and Country Song (written by John Larson).   The lyrics of the latter name check George Jones, Ernest Tubb, David Allan Coe and Gram Parsons, as the lyric and music combine as a mournful reaction to the contemporary dearth of real country music.

Produced by Paul Curcuruto and Rick Buck (with a guest performance by Joseph Paul Hauserman on percussion), This Time features songs evoking emotional reactions suggested by their titles (e.g., You Can't Fool Me, So Happy, Then Teardrops Start, What Music I Do, I'm Yours) but the performances tilt more toward the creative than the predictable.

I Fall For You provides a wry twist on determining responsibility for a codependent relationship while another selection is responsible for a warning label for radio programmers and/or the easily offended.  As Mark Tomeo explains: "The CD isn't truly 'explicit'- one song only (Not Enough Sunshine) references the colloquial term for manure, so we got slapped with the label."


Rating ****

Wyatt's self-titled four-song EP showcases the talent of the New York City-based band.  Wyatt's members, vocalists all, are siblings Maddy Wyatt (flute, acoustic guitar, tambourine), Paul Wyatt (acoustic and electric guitar) and Alex Wyatt (drums and percussion) along with Dana Haynes (piano, synth and mellotron)  and  Zach Lane (upright and electric bass).

Octopus King is a rockin', metaphorical take on a frustrating relationship.  Nobodys is an infections, hand-clapping view from the inner sanctum that somehow reminds me of Hall & Oates' Private Eyes and the Police's Every Breath You TakeGood Fight provides a philosophical, feel-good bit of motivation.

The EP concludes with the quintet's first single, Leonah; an energized, exuberant introduction to a band whose style is best described as Abba on acid.



 Old Gold

Rating ****  1/2

Country music's long history has included recording artists who set, defy and conform to trends.  Its innovators are often distinct in their voices, lyrics or some combination of the two.

Zoe Muth and The Lost High Rollers (drummer Greg Niles, Etan Lawton on mandolin, bassist Mike McDermott, electric and pedal steel guitarist Dave Harmonson and backup vocalists Joy Mills and Tom Parker) show a respect for tradition that is evidenced from the opening bars of Heart Like A Wheel, the first of six songs on this EP.  The Anna McGarrigle-penned classic has been covered before, but Zoe draws her inspired performance less from Linda Ronstadt's 1974 hit version (or subsequent covers) than from a childhood experience of hearing Kate and Anna McGarrigle's own recording on the radio following the sisters' self-titled debut album's release the next year.

The emphasis on Old Gold- Zoe's Try to Walk the Line (a song about the effort to summon and sustain strength in shedding the doormat role in an emotionally abusive relationship) is the only original song on the EP- continues with Muth and her band's cover of Charlie Feathers' recording of Bill Cantrell and Quinton Claunch's I've Been Deceived.g about the effort to summon and sustain strength in response to being treated like a doormat in an emotionally abusive relationship.

Speaking (writing?) of unhealthy interaction, Muth and friends put the fun in the dysfunctional gunfire  (Forget snakes on a plane; think of a fellow passenger shooting a mean, fat and stinky doctor at 30,000 feet in the air)  of John Prine's story-song,  Maureen, Maureen.  

The cover of Country Blues (written by M.L. "Dock" Doggs) is Zoe's tribute to Harry Smith and the Anthology of American Folk Music; a somewhat improvised performance because Muth doesn't play banjo.

Muth's vocals are more akin to EmmyLou Harris' than to Janis Joplin's as will be readily evident to anyone who listens to Zoe and The Lost High Rollers' version of this disc's closer: Jerry Ragavoy and Mort Shuman's Get It While You Can.



Rating ****

Set in the Georgia city that bears its name, the opening, title song of Caroline Herring's latest CD is a harrowing tale of both violence and courage  during the Camilla Massacre of 1868.

The Peach State is also the inspiration for Black Mountain Lullaby, a somber tale of mining-country greed, environmental degradation and the fate of an Appalachian toddler set in the White County, Georgia mountains.

Whether observing a little girl in a nightgown chasing Fireflies, describing hard Delta summers amid the beauty of the pines in Summer Song, or painting vivid, lyrics of patriotic pride abroad a Maiden Voyage, this is Caroline Herring at her best.

Traveling Shoes
, inspired by A Worn Path (a Eudora Welty short story) is an a capella departure for Caroline, as the purity of Herring's voice is combined with the guest artistry and pitch perfect harmonies of Mary Chapin Carpenter and Aoife O'Donovan.   Caroline and Chapin reunite on White Dress, the tale of a 24-year-old Alabaman who has decided to stand up for herself.  

In Until You Go, Caroline contemplates separation. insecurity and the healing process, while Flee as a Bird draws on an 1840s hymn that Caroline has reinterpreted so as to provide a contemporary feel.

The closer, Joy Never Ends (Auld Lang Syne) weaves a new story line (combining everything from references to oil fields, family tradition and a Texas ranch wedding to the Internet) into the familiar refrain of the traditional New Year's Eve anthem.


Todd Fritsch

 Up Here in the Saddle

Rating ****

Butch Baker, who had a recording career of his own back when Todd Fritsch was a Texas toddler, produced Todd's new CD; a collection of 12 songs Todd terms his “best ever” project guaranteed to curry favor with Fritsch fans.

Arguably that is due to the assistance of Dean Dillon who co-wrote five of the songs including the title track, a duet featuring Dean and Todd using the vantage point of the view afforded from atop a horse as a metaphor affirming the wisdom of pausing, when overwhelmed by circumstances, long enough to gather strength and to stop and smell the roses, as it were.
I can’t improve upon Fritsch’s description of his latest collection of songs (“It’s about me, where I’m from and how I feel about life, with a few rowdy songs thrown in for good measure.”) except possibly to single out, for special consideration, what I feel is the best song on the CD: Calls I Haven’t Made; a Fred Wilhelm and Michael Terrence Post composition with a message for most of us.       

Marvin Etzioni

 Marvin Country !

Rating **** 1/2

Depending upon how familiar the listener is with Marvin Etzioni and  Marvin's music, s/he will approach Marvin Country! with any number of varying expectations about the Grammy award-winning producer's new critically-acclaimed double-side, 22-song CD.

For those wishing to label this effort, Americana works quite well. Etzioni enlists the talents of Lucinda Williams, Buddy Miller, Steve Earle and other guest artists for an eclectic venture of musical prose and commentary alternatively delivered with passion, contemporary expressions of Talmudic wisdom and cryptic humor.

Having already partially reviewed this album within the context of my Report on Etzioni's performance during the May, 2012 NSAI showcase of Marvin Country!, the focus here shifts to what has not been previously mentioned.  Bob Dylan is Dead, inspired by a negative review of one of Etzioni's musical hero's performances, is part tribute and part plea to recognize the genius that is true artistry while both critic and artist are still around to appreciate it.

Where's Your Analogue Spirit? is a calculation of the true price of progress while Gram Revisited is a posthumous tribute to another prominent musical hero of Marvin's.

What's Patsy Cline Doin' These Days? (parts one and two, yet!) could be a reaction to Pat Quigley's famous country-music duet "proposal," but it Marvin's mind it's all that and more.

Marvin Country! is inspired, original and a taste worthy of acquiring for those who have not already hopped aboard the Etzioni bandwagon.

Who Do You Think You Are?  (Season 2)

 Stars Trace Their Family Roots Through History

Rating **** 1/2

The second season of Who Do You Think You Are?, NBC-TV's popular celebrity genealogy reality series, has at the conclusion of its third season,  just been released on DVD.  Between the "peacock network"'s series and PBS' Finding Your Roots (hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) those of us who are armchair genealogists are in hog heaven!

But,  recognizing that most viewers are at least as, if not more, interested in celebrities than in genealogy, NBC has wisely trotted out the eye candy with which to hook viewers as, in cooperation with ancestry.com, the world's largest online family genealogical subscription service (Nasdaq: ACOM), the partnership attempts to make history come alive (regardless of the varying ethnicities of our cultural melting pot spotlighted) through the eyes of viewers' favorite stars.

It's a formula works as each episode of the hour-long weekly series is devoted to a single celebrity, with the help of experts in the field, retracing her/his own family history and, in the process, learning news about ancestors (good and bad) while, in the process, becoming amateur detectives who often unwittingly manage to unlock secrets that give clarity to questions often raised  in family lore and otherwise confirm stories passed down from generation-to-generation or expose such tales as merely myths created with some ulterior (albeit often benign) motive.

Season 2's eight episodes on two DVDS, complete with SDH subtitles,
features the genealogical journeys of Vanessa Williams, Rosie O'Donnell, Kim Cattrall, Lionel Richie, Steve Buscemi, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ashley Judd and, perhaps of greatest interest to readers of this Web page, Tim McGraw.

Given that McGraw's "story" of learning who is real father was seemed to be so well-known and thoroughly-documented years prior to the debut of this series, Tim might have seemed an unlikely choice:  How can anything that happened generations before Samuel Timothy Smith learned, at age 11, that he was not Horace Smith's biological child, but rather baseball great  Frank Edwin ("Tug") McGraw, Jr.'s son, be anywhere near as interesting?

Tim had to journey back in time and place to the days of the Revolutionary War to find out, but he learned of that mind-blowing link in one of the Season 2's most intriguing episodes.

Of course, finding one's own roots can be more challenging, time-consuming and expensive than these profiles suggest (as some viewers may have already discovered, as evinced by word at this writing that NBC has just canceled WDYTYA?) , but the takeaway for viewers is not only, as expected, the opportunity to learn more about their favorite stars, but also, as, if not more, importantly, the motivation to explore their own family roots.

Steep Canyon Rangers

 Nobody Knows You

Rating ****

Arguably if you are Comedian Steve Martin’s backup band Nobody Knows You would seem to be the perfect title for a quintet’s CD, but just as, thanks to late-night TV appearances, Martin’s mainstream audiences know he plays a pretty mean banjo and is serious about bluegrass music,  those same late-night audiences know The Steep Canyon Rangers were not riding Martin’s coattails when the Grammy-nominated band and Steve were recipients of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s 2011 Entertainer of the Year award.

And so it is that Nobody Knows You is the perfect choice not only for a near-perfect bluegrass album, courtesy of a guest appearance by Randy Kohrs, but also the title song of 12 found here.

Leading off with the title song, ironically an ode to someone who is gone but not forgotten, with Rescue Me the focus shifts to a plea for help escaping a painful past and all of the “darkness” associated with it.

Easy to Love is a love song, of sorts, mixed with a heavy dose of introspection, while As I Go is not as heavily focused on romance as, in this case, a rebel assessing the impact of rebellion.  

Natural Disaster is humor-tinged view of love, while Ungrateful One is a son’s gritty reflection of his father and the dysfunctional dynamics that resulted.  It is the best-written of all of the songs (with the possible exception of Reputation, a warning about the fallout of risky behavior) in an album of thought-provoking lyrics nicely punctuated with  Knob Creek, an instrumental that reminds listeners of the sheer joy of unadorned, pure pickin’.

Marty Raybon

 Hand to the Plow

Rating *** 1/2


Hand to the Plow is being publicized as being “filled with a Country Spirit “ and “a wonderful selection of message songs.”   It is that, but in spots it’s a bit preachy for a country album.

The final verse of When He Reigns It Pours is a prime example: A bouncy hand-clapper, the song is better than many, if not most, probably written around a catchy hook.  What Have I Done To Deserve This is no less subtle.    Like You’ve Got To Move, a #1 song in Christian Voice and Cashbox, these songs are better suited to the Christian music market.

Perhaps Marty’s producer, Mark Carman anticipated such criticism.  If so,  when the decision was made to cover Bill Monroe’s Workin’ On a Building,  (a Country Music Foundation favorite, no doubt), Trace Adkins, Jimmy Fortune and T. Graham Brown were recruited to join Marty on vocals.

The decision to include He’s Still My Little Man (Matty’s Song) as one of the tracks on this 10-sided seems strange.  If you feel like you’ve the song before, I feel like I’ve reviewed it before.

We’re both right:  It’s was on Marty’s last CD, At His Best.

Raybon is truly at his best when zealotry does not override the message of inspiration as with I’ve Seen What He Can Do and He’s Still Doing Miracles Today.  These songs are in your face without being offensive.

Walking With God at a Guilty Distance is another song that causes the listener to think (though it isn’t manipulative or cloying as some of these songs are, again in spots).

You Get Me, like You Light Up My Life, can be interpreted a couple of different ways.  The latter was actually a statement of religious faith written so that if its true meaning was not understood it made for a good, commercial love song.   I suspect Raybon and his co-writer, Barry Hutchens had the same idea in mind as the late Joe Brooks when he wrote his Grammy award-winner.

Garrett Morgan

 Standing on a Bridge

Rating ***


Garrett Morgan is an independent Americana/country artist and songwriter currently living in Northern California.  

A Southwest Texas native, Garrett’s EP showcases both his gritty voice and thoughtful, relationship-inspired lyrics (every one of these songs is a Morgan original).

 She Says acquaints listeners with a woman who exudes confidence and seems to have it all together, however…

 Then there’s troubled, prayerful, Kacey experiencing the pain of rejection

 Our protagonist is clearly enamored of Sugar, perhaps accounting for two renditions (the finale on this handful of songs is an acoustic version of the song), though not in succession.   Morgan has some words of comfort and advice for Sirena, who embarks from “the middle of nowhere” via “a bus to California,” still unable to shed her disappointment, while the title song is yet another love song rendered as an introspective metaphor about life at the crossroads.

 A good mix from an up-and-coming artist… 

Ann Claire

 Honkytonk Princess

Rating ***  1/2

Nearly eight years after her debut as an E! ”reality” series (Love is in the Heir) star, Princess Ann Claire, the London-born granddaughter of HH Princess Shams of Iran’s Pahlavi dynasty and the late Shah of Iran’s great-niece), professionally drops her royal title, comes to Nashville and trades her crown for a debut album.

As I listened to Honkytonk Princess, all of the above was news to me.  The CD’s title was not a tip off, since its only significance to me was that it was the title song of this 12 song collection.  Only when I later read the project’s liner notes and played the accompanying, roughly four and one-quarter minute-long “bonus DVD featuring never-before-seen interviews & footage of the making of the record: the road from TV to reality” was I brought up to speed on this “celebrity” whom I thought was another new, unknown artist vying for my attention.

Any project that has Bob Tur’s backing, as this one does according to the liner notes and DVD credits, is worthy of my consideration, but when an artist doesn’t adequately explain the connection, thanks a plastic surgeon by name and acknowledges her “corporate sponsors,” is a reviewer justified in asking if this is just another instance of a carpetbagger (though one who is now a naturalized American citizen), in this case a princess (with all of sense of entitlement that title suggests) expecting Music Row to give her, pardon the expression, the royal treatment?

Again, having heard the CD with none of these prejudicial thoughts to ponder, as a lyric-lover, I was struck by the production that, while creative at times, at others renders some of the lyrics unintelligible.   With no lyrics list provided, at times I was picking up on only bits and pieces of what some of these songs are about.

Better Girl is the CD’s first singe and video.   It is a good, radio-friendly upbeat choice.    Let’s Go To Mexico might initially have eyes rolling- like the world needs another song in the Jimmy Buffett- Kenny Chesney tradition.  Yet how can a listener not love the line expressing the wish to “maybe catch a glimpse” of Chesney “without his hat?”

Likewise,  Shania Twain fans will also enjoy Go With Me as a line in that songs suggests Ann Claire wonders not what would Jesus do but rather “what would Shania say?”

Ray Stevens

 Encyclopedia of Recorded Comedy Music

Rating *****

 Expanding in 2012 on his 2009 three-disc box set (pictured above) of the same title, Ray releases a nine-disc, 108-song recorded encyclopedia of comedic music. 

This review is of the latter's 12-song sampler, heavily-laden as it is with novelty songs. 

The opener, a reprise of Spike Jones' signature song, Cocktails for Two (written by Arthur Johnson and Sam Coslow), should carry a warning: Don't listen while driving!  (I made the mistake of doing so.  Though, having been familiar with the original, I should have been prepared for the cacophony of sound that might have resulted in an accident, and perhaps an arrest for distracted driving, had I not instantaneously recognized the sirens et all I was hearing did not necessitate my pulling over and that all I needed to do in the moment was to relax, enjoy the craziness and slightly lower the volume!)

Following Ray's rendition of that Big Band era hit, Stevens treats us to his delivery and slight retitling of another (with apologies to Tim Spencer): Cigareets and Whusky and Wild Wild Women.

Ray evokes a favorite childhood memory (though this may be the first time I've heard the complete lyrics) with his interpretation of Lonnie Donegan's Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour (On the Bedpost Overnight), written by Marty Bloom, Ernest Breur and Billy Rose.

And why wait for Halloween to listen to Stevens' cover of Gene Simmons' (the solo singer, not KISS' front man Chaim Weitz) Haunted House (written by Robbert Geddins)?

Other highlights?  Ray's performances of all of the songs here are great, but the other particular sampler standouts are his takes on such rock era standards as Mr. Custer, Searchin', and They're Coming To Take Me Away Ha Ha, as well as Stevens' standout version of the George Jones classic, White Lightnin' (written by the Big Bopper). 

Stacy's earlier online Music & Video Reviews
are archived here.

Make Money Online Infographic
Infographic of WordPress Essentials by Industry – Brought to you from InMotion Hosting – A VPS Hosting Provider

Make Money Online Infographic

Home | Music Row Report | Music Reviews | Book Reviews | Paid Content | Contact