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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.

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Stacy's Ratings

*****Outstanding

**** Good

*** Promising

** Fair

*Makes A Good Coaster

  


Jim Ed Brown

In Style Again  

Rating  *** 1/2


Just shy of his 81st birthday, Jim Ed Brown  returns to the recording studio, following a noticeable absence of three decades, with 12 solo performances.  These include the title track, produced by veteran trade journalist, author, academician, songwriter and now Plowboy Records exec Don Cusic and the album's opener, When the Sun Says Hello to The Mountain (Produced by Bobby Bare, the song features The Browns' sound as Jim Ed musically reunites with sister Bonnie who, in Maxine's absence, bolsters her own vocal with a recreation of the unavailable Brown sister's part).  

A true polymath, Cusic’s songs resonate with Brown, as they figure prominently on this project, the theme of which is that older people in general, and older artists in particular, remain vital and engaged as they possess an unbeatable combination of maturity, wisdom and experience that is wasted when dismissed by a culture that increasingly worships youth.  Bill Anderson also got a cut on the album marking Jim Ed’s debut on Plowboy Records, an independent label resulting from the partnership of Cusic, R. Shannon Pollard (Eddy Arnold’s grandson) and music industry veteran Cheetah Chrome.

Vince Gill’s fans will be happy to discover that Gill appears on Jim Ed’s recording of Tried and True.  Not to be outdone, The Whites lend their vocals to Brown’s cover of You Again (Remember the Forester Sisters’ hit recording?).  

And what would a 21st century Jim Ed Brown album release, one that contains reminders of the Browns’ sound, be without the presence of the distaff partner in Jim Ed’s “third career”?  Those who miss the hit streak of Jim Ed Brown’s duets with Helen Cornelius will be richly entertained as Jim Ed and Helen reunite with their cover of the Carl & Pearl Butler classic, Don’t Let Me Cross Over (although this inspired choice to reunite Jim Ed and Helen musically is overshadowed by the distracting choice of this particular song- the word chutzpah comes to mind- with respect to the real-life events that expedited the inevitable professional breakup of Brown and Cornelius).

The (other) “elephant in the room” with regard to this project is Jim Ed’s well-publicized treatment for the lung cancer “wrapped around my esophagus and my breathing tubes.”

Fortunately, Brown’s vocal chords were not impacted.  His sound is still warm, smooth, clear and distinct.  No lyric sheet required.       

That said, Jim Ed's otherwise impeccable vocals suggest a bit of diminished lung capacity, heightening an awareness of what listeners have come to expect from veteran artists who inevitably have had to make some accommodation to the passage of time as they discover it takes increased effort to hit the higher and lower notes they once did so effortlessly.

What remains is Jim Ed Brown's essence; a comfortable and comforting musical presence that still has so much to offer, not only with this collection but with ones that should follow.              

 

  


James Carothers

Honky Tonk Land  

Rating  *****

Listeners yearning for both new and real (read that traditional) country music sung with conviction have only to listen to James Carothers’ first nationally-released CD, Honky Tonk Land

Indeed, on the first of these eight Renegade Mountain Records recordings, titled New Country Singers, James takes a satirical jab at hat acts that can only mimic the authenticity that Carothers' phrasing and writing suggest is part and parcel of James’ DNA.  Further, Carothers has the deep baritone chops to convince any doubters.  

That authenticity, in the alcohol-infused imagery of what, at first glance, may (erroneously) seem to be a collection of drinking songs (as exemplified by New Country Singers, the title song and Have Another Round) permeates Carothers’ largely self-written lyrics.   (Trouble in Paradise, musical allegory for our time, was written by James’ father, Jim and is the only song found here that James did not write.)

The excruciating pain of loss as it evolves into numbness is the theme of James’ first single, I Must Be Alive

 

The narrative of She’s Too Crazy is enough to make a listener feel smothered, while the mystery of Mississippi Clay will intrigue others even as the earthiness of its lyrics will surely make natives homesick for the Magnolia state.

Where Did We Come From cautions that progress comes with a cost, ending these largely feel-good, flawless sessions on a contemplative note.

While the critically-acclaimed Carothers has  been compared to (as critics are wont to do) the singers most cited as the “gold standard” of traditional country music (whom I won't name as they are patently obvious), and while that inspiration is evident, James’ originality transcends all of that.

Still, my ears can't help but hear, if we must get into the comparison game, a vocal style reminiscent of a couple more,  heretofore unmentioned country music icons: Nat Stuckey and Earl Thomas Conley.  

If you’re new to bluegrass music, country music or if you’d love to hear old country songs revived (largely) by the original artists bluegrass-style, courtesy of participating artists Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Grass (Josh Goforth, Ben Greene, Tommy Long and Jason Moore), this is the purchase for you!

A year in the making, the resulting 13-song project leads off with two of The Kentucky Headhunters  (Doug Phelps and Richard Young) joining Lorraine and Josh Gordon in an interesting update of the 1997 release, Runnin’ Water.   Rating *****

Next up, Eddy Raven's 1984 hit, I Got Mexico has Raven sharing lead vocals this time (with Tim Cifers) while Josh and Lorraine sing harmony.

Damned if I Don’t, Damned if I Do, a 1995 Shenandoah recording, features the erstwhile group's lead singer, Marty Raybon, joined by Jordan and Goforth on harmony vocals.

John Conlee took Common Man to the top of the charts in 1983.  More than three decades later, Conlee breathes new life into the song, this time joined on lead vocals by dobro player Brad Hudson, with harmonies but- guess who?  (Sensing a pattern?)

Crystal Gayle is on hand with the singer's rerecording of her 1978 hit Ready for the Times, this time joined by Lorraine on lead vocals.  While Jordan continues to sing background with Goforth, they have added a third backup singer to Crystal's performance: banjoist Ben Greene.  (The recording was engineered by Gayle's son, Chris Gatzimos.)  

Lee Greenwood increased a growing fan base with his 1985 recording of Dixie Road.  Thirty years later Lee shares lead vocals on the remake with Troy Pope, as Lorraine and Josh harmonize.  
The Browns disbanded in 1967, the same year Jim Ed Brown gained traction with his cover of the Roy Hamilton hit, You Can Have Her. On this rendition, Jim Ed shares lead vocals with guitarist Tommy Long backed  Lorainne and Josh.  

The late Conway Twitty left some big shoes to fill with his 1978 recording of Boogie Grass Band.  Any cover of the song would require a real boogie grass band to do it justice, but all things are possible with the teaming of Jordan, Raybon, Brown, Greenwood, Raven, Conlee, Phelps, Young, Lynn Anderson and T.G. Sheppard on lead vocals, backed by Ronnie Reno, Kelly Lang, Lorraine, Josh and Tommy.

It was an equally large task to reprise Randy Travis' 1986 hit recording of Diggin' Up Bones, requiring, in Randy's absence, to do justice.   With Tommy on lead vocals and Josh and Lorraine singing background the task was doable.  

Sheppard has been singing Do You Want To Go To Heaven for the last 35 years as a solo artist- until now.  Sharing lead vocals with Long, T.G. also receives assistance from Tommy on background vocals (joined by-you guessed it- Lorraine and Josh).

The late Keith Whitley's 1988 tear-jerker, Don't Close Your Eyes, previously recorded by Whitley's namesake son, receives a different treatment here as Jesse Keith Whitley shares lead vocals with Cifers. while Gorforth and Jordan's harmonies are enhanced with the addition of Jeannette Williams' background vocal.

Jordan joins Anderson in a duet of Lynn's 1971 megahit, Rose Garden, harmony vocals courtesy of Josh and Brad.  

The late Floyd Cramer would be surprised at the tribute paid to his 1960 classic Last Date, but Greene's arrangement of the enduring instrumental has done him proud.  

 

      

 








Nu-Blu

All the Way


Rating *** 1/2

All the Way, Nu-Blu's follow-up to Ten, is an eclectic 10-song collection of songs that variously work- and otherwise.

Leading off with That's What Makes the Bluegrass Blue (featuring Rhonda Vincent), Nu-Blu segues to its bluegrass version of Anne Murray's hit, A Little Good News.  The latter is the latest in a series of what has become a fashionable trend among bluegrass artists: Giving a bluegrass treatment to songs from other genres one would never expect to hear given a bluegrass arrangement. 

Nu-Blu pulls off what would seem to be a tall order, but the song choice is curious: While the  theme of the Rory Bourke-Charlie Black-Tommy Rocco collaboration is timeless, certain lyrical references, brilliant for the time, seem dated.  One wonders why Nu-Blu didn't pick up on this, perhaps updating the line about Bryant Gumbel (who left Today over nearly two decades ago) and war in Lebanon with a more contemporary reference. 

The title song is the most compelling in the way that a well-written story song tends to be, but the album's lead single, Jesus and Jones, a collaboration between Nu-Blu and Sam Moore detailing the differences and the supposed lesser-considered, but equally-valid similarities between George Jones and the Messiah the Possum worshiped, is a performance-driven match, seemingly designed to snag a Country Music Association Musical Event of the Year nomination.




  Reba McEntire

Icon

 

Rating ****

  

Rating **** 1/2

With this reissue of a cross-section of her hits, MCA Nashville has added Reba McEntire to its Icon-titled series of recordings.

The selections, notably The Heart is A Lonely Hunter, Reba's remake of Bobbie Gentry's Fancy, The Heart Won't Lie (McEntire's duet with Vince Gill), Is There Life Out There, Why Haven't I Heard from You and I'm a Survivor are inspired choices.

Reba's fans, who don't already have these songs in their collection, can't go wrong with this purchase.

The Roys

The View

 

Rating ****

  


The Roys’ fourth studio album features liner notes written by Bill Anderson.  Anderson’s liner describes the process of writing this 11-collection’s title song (which ought to be pitched as a theme song to kick off ABC-TV’s new season of the daytime talker of the same name) with Elaine and Lee. (Spoiler alert: Bill had a good time and was so impressed with the siblings he hopes to co-write with them again.)

Curiously, Sometimes, another song found here, is not a reworking of the nearly 40-year-old Anderson-Mary Lou Turner duet of the same title but rather a song written by Lee, Elaine and Steve Dean.

The CD is also notable for sister-brother duo’s hit single No More Lonely and the siblings’ collaboration with Doyle Lawson on Mandolin Man, a musical tribute to Bill Monroe, co-written by Lee Roy and Larry Alderman.

 

 

Sun Culture

Rating **** ˝

  

Nashville-based singer/songwriter/producer Chase Coy’s group Sun Culture’s self-titled debut CD is a summer sleeper.  The evocative eight-song collection seems to have been lost in the shuffle, perhaps as a result of having been released too early.  

That’s a shame because this is a group with a future.  Great musicianship.  Great lyrics. 

No particular song stands out.   These originals are all that good. 

Check ‘em out- and spread the word!


Telegraph

 Rewind


Rating **** 1/2

  


Telegraph (brothers Marshall and Red Cunningham and Wes "Rocco" Beale) are Nashville transplants (late of the Northern Virginia pop/rockers Sing Me Insomnia) whose blend of creative songs and high-energy performances are gaining the trio foothold on Music Row.

Their debut, six-song EP runs less 20 minutes but, beginning with the title song (with which anyone in an established relationship who yearns for the spark of love can identify), Telegraph hooks its listeners winning instant fans.

Whether experiencing the intimidating attraction of a woman who is Red Hot,  the similarly mesmerizing and even slightly dangerous Sugar,  the Wild One (no this is not a cover of the Bobby Rydell classic) who defies taming or the outright and unapologetically Sexy, Telegraph is a group to watch and one from which to expect the unexpected.

Case in point, the eclectic vocals and musicianship that channel the music of an earlier era  (Buddy Holly's Peggy Sue-esque stutter, the falsetto that paid the bills from rockers like Frankie Valli,Del Shannon and Lou Christie, with great guitar solos and a bit of doo-wop thrown in for good measure).

But Telegraph is a 21st century group with yet a final song that will appeal to 21st century country-music fans: Rhinestone Chapel may well become a requested selection, if not exactly traditional wedding music, among couples (perhaps including those who, like the groom in the song finding themselves at the altar despite premarital in-law issues), taking their vows at such contemporary venues as the Music Row Wedding Chapel and Rhinestone Wedding Chapel. 


Danny Roberts

 Nighthawk


Rating *** 


Danny Roberts, mandolin master/founding member late of The Grascals, now a familiar face (however typecast) to viewers of the ABC-TV series, Nashville, has just completed this, his second solo project.

A mixture of instrumentals (including the title song), family affair vocals (courtesy of Danny’s wife, Andrea, and daughter, Jaelee) and Christian inspiration (notably I Went Down a Beggar [But Came Up a Millionaire] and Jaelee’s gripping performance of How Great Thou Art), Nighthawk boasts able assistance from Kristen Scott Benson, Sam Bush, Tim Surrett. Tony Wray, Ronnie McCoury, Aubrey Haney, and Mike Compton.



Animal Years

 Sun Will Rise

Rating *** 1/2

 

Animal Years (featuring Mike McFadden, Anthony Saladino, Matthew Indellicati, Anthony Spinnato and Kevin Johnson) manifests some animal magnetism with this, its debut album.

Mike wrote, published and co-produced (with Chris Bentley) each of the nine songs on this album, released on McFadden’s own label.

From its opening notes Meet Me establishes the lyrical integrity of McFadden’s relationship songs carrying through to the title song, with its message of hope, and points in between. 

Let Go of Your Head and Forget What They’re Telling You are reminders that the ability to focus is the first step toward resolution of that which us angst.

The title song suggests a measure of hope that ties together this song collection’s various themes of loving, leaving, introspection, moving on and moving forward. 


Debra Lyn

  A Cold Wind Blows

Rating *** 

 

A Cold Wind Blows, meaning both the title song and 10 selections that follow, details the different phases of relationships.  Debra Lyn achieves this with vocal performances so compelling that listeners have a blueprint, courtesy of one of the more pleasing and clear voices of experience; a singer whose songwriting pen adds an ink-filled flourish consistent with the creative license of imagination.

Debra Lyn’s second studio album, over five years in the making, is yet another collaboration between the singer and her husband, Jeff Silverman.  Debra’s co-writer on 6 of these 11 songs (including With or Without You, with a theme of expected, impending loss that Lyn and Silverman co-wrote with the song’s co-producer and co-arranger, Tim Lorsch), Jeff also produced mixed and engineered these songs.  

Debra’s measured, eerily uncanny approach to her performance of the title song, introduces the recurring characters in these songs through the lens, and familiar country-music theme, of marital intimacy turned triangular in scope.

One Heart underscores the no-holds-barred morality play theme of these songs, paying particular attention to the fallout from an adulterous relationship from the perspective of each of the parties it touches.

Swim the River is a song of determination to preserve (what’s left of) a relationship, while Closer to Goodbye is the acceptance of what might be the inevitable “other side” of that same coin (i.e., an acceptance, if not an embracing, of the truth as reality sets in).

Believe, “an introspective view on depression,” escapes a maudlin denouement, courtesy of the musical offer of a credible lifeline.

Drunken Fool is an otherwise self-explanatory assessment and resulting ultimatum that segues into If I Never Wake Up Again, another example of the other side of the same coin in which the protagonist weighs her alcohol-infused “choices.” 

I’ll Always Miss The Love I Left Behind (remix) is a wistful consideration of what might have been, while So Long Since September (also a remix) is a song of separation resolved (apparently) by a happy ending.

The album’s finale, Till I’m Gone, paints a picture of a woman strong enough to leave a relationship to which only she appears committed, but not without the anguish of a woman still in love with a man unable to value her as she now must (learn to) value herself.

These songs will resonate with those who appreciate Debra Lyn’s artistry and the sentiments of these lyrics, especially if they identify with the situations portrayed in these songs.  

Nu-Blu

  Ten

Rating **** 1/2

 

  

Nu-Blu (featured vocalist Carolyn Routh on bass, Carolyn’s husband,  Daniel, vocals and guitar;  Levi Austin, vocals, guitar and banjo; Austin Koerner, mandolin;), a quartet ably assisted by fiddlers Jim VanCleve and Ron Stewart, bring listeners ten great songs (hence the title of this collection), any one of which carries the album.

Leading off with That Road, a testament to endurance that name-checks J.D. Crowe, Nu-Blu’s music is for the lyric-oriented as it explores several facets of the human condition with a bluegrass sensibility.   

All Americans musically addresses dissension as a subset of consensus, while the equally thought-provoking Eddie’s Garage is reminiscent of Alan Jackson’s Little Man.

Instrumental fans will want to check out the Giant Squid. 

From a tribute to those who plant The Seed to the direction provided courtesy of Trains I Didn't Take, Ten is a great showcase for Carolyn and the guys. 


Sherry Lynn

   A Beautiful Life

Rating *****

 

 

No, Sherry Lynn has not covered Jim Reeves' newly-released and remastered songs of inspiration.  However, if the title of this, Sherry Lynn's sophomore CD, sounds familiar for another reason,  it's because the pride of Woodbury, New Jersey and her team knew that, if enough listeners heard these songs, the music would attract more attention than it received when the 10-song collection first dropped on June 18, 2013.

That proved to be an inspired decision, since wider distribution resulted in the immediate popularity of the album's first single, Girls Will Be Girls, a lively, coming-of-age story in song.  

Like the equally girl-friendly opener, I Like 'Em Like That, Girls Will Be Girls has listeners singing along to a series of songs that will put them in a good mood if they're in need of escapism and, if life is otherwise going well, will heighten that optimistic sensation.

These sides close with the title song, as Sherry Lynn calls on Crystal Gayle to add just the right blend to a duet that captures both the beauty, and often the necessity, of living life in the moment.

    



Rhonda Vincent

  Only Me

Rating *****

 

 

The intersection of country music with bluegrass music is always up for discussion and debate.  With the increased frequency of  bluegrass artists covering country songs (and country artists occasionally returning the favor) the intersection is increasingly one of blurred lines.

If Rhonda Vincent’s ears have ever burned during such philosophizing, Only Me is the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist’s assertive, genre-defying response to attempts to pigeonhole or otherwise label her music beyond it unique individuality.

The first disc of this two-disc set is labeled Bluegrass.  The second is titled Country.

The former features six bluegrass favorites but, once again, Robin Thicke hasn’t cornered the market on blurred lines.  While Rhonda’s performances of Jesse Daniel’s Busy City and Larry Cordle/Lionel Delmore’s I’d Rather Hear I Don’t Love You (Than Nothing at All) won’t raise any eyebrows, but the title song, Rhonda’s duet with Willie Nelson, does somewhat startle.  Given Nelson’s behind (and sometimes ahead of) the beat phrasing, Willie can be a challenging duet partner.

Happily, not only is Rhonda up to the challenge,  Nelson brings off bluegrass.

Thanks to Jack Greene, I never thought of I Need Somebody Bad Tonight as being anything other than a country song, but Rhonda’s rendering of Ben Peters’ classic copyright proves the versatility of bluegrass.

Similarly, nothing was more country than the duet pairing of George Jones and Melba Montgomery on We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds.  To her credit, Rhonda resists the temptation to mimic Melba, but recruitingDaryle Singletary, a talent in his own right, to recreate or otherwise imitate the Possum’s classic sound (on what listeners find labeled as a bluegrass recording), if that was the intention, does nothing to enhance what, under the circumstances, is a bit cheesy performance.

It’s Never Too Late rounds out the “bluegrass” side of the ledger.

Vincent’s six sides of country fare begin with Rhonda’s own composition, Teardrops Over You.  Two Bill Anderson compositions made the cut as Rhonda brings her own style to covering Emmylou Harris' Beneath Still Waters Connie Smith’s classic recording of Once A Day and Bill’s hit recording of Bright Lights and Country Music.

The bright lights dim but it’s country music all the way as Rhonda closes the country side of her CD with the sobriety of two other classic country covers: George Jones’ recording of When the Grass Grows Over Me andErnest Tubb’s Drivin’ Nails.

Newtown

Time Machine

Rating *** 1/2

 

 

Banjoist and guitarist JR Williams and his wife, fiddler Kati Penn-Williams (with whom JR shares lead and harmony vocals) front Newtown; a bluegrass quintet rounded out by C.J. Cain (lead guitar, rhythm guitar), Clint Hurd (Newtown’s mandola and mandolin play, Clint also contributes harmony vocals), Terry Poirier (the group’s upright bassist, Terry’s lead vocals offer JR and Kati an occasional respite).

Time Machine producer, Jim Surrett, supplements Newtown’s standout musicianship- that’s Jim listeners hear on resophonic guitar.

While, as mentioned, Cain otherwise has Newtown’s guitar sound covered, the group relies heavily on C.J.’s pen, as half of the songs featured on this CD were written by Charles James Cain.

One of the songs Cain didn’t write is Dublin Blues.  Newtown does a credible cover version of Guy Clark’s classic as well as other story songs as it recounts themes of love, faith, war, Jesse James and robbin’ trains.

Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts

  (Collectors Edition)

Rating **** 1/2

 

Dean Martin had country-music street cred by virtue of some of his country-flavored recordings.  (Who can forget Dino’s hit, crossover hit, Houston?)

While Martin’s eponymous weekly TV variety show was not known for featuring country-music artists, country stars of the day dominated the Martin show’s summer replacement series, Dean Martin Presents Music Country.

As fans await those DVDs, Star Vista Entertainment introduces this series of six DVDs (1080 minutes running time) featuring Dean’s weekly variety hour’s comedy specials spin-offs.

Best-remembered as the (retitled) Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, these slightly less-raunchy TV editions of  the famed Friar’s Club roasts featured faces familiar to Martin’s weekly series’ audiences.

Whether they were roasters or the ones being skewered, an all-star cast was guaranteed.

Dolly Parton may never have been among those gracing the dais, but Parton knew she had secured multi-platform fame, when, during the course of Martin’s Jimmy Stewart roast at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (original air date May 10, 1978), Dino directed a Dolly Parton joke at Jimmy.  Not to be outdone, the comedy of Stewart roasters Foster Brooks and Red Buttons also included jokes about Dolly!

Three years earlier (original air date April 25, 1975) at the same location, roastmaster Dean Martin compared the “man of the hour” Sammy Davis, Jr. to “Jimmy Dean pork sausage.”

And while the sausage king never got the chance to display his quick wit on these celebrity roasts, Lynn Anderson was somewhat incongruously selected as the token female roaster at the MGM Grand Hotel Kirk Douglas roast (original air date October 12, 1973).

Dean would only say of the “country-western” singing star that “She’s so pretty, I’d watch her If she was on the radio.”  Anderson’s joke?  Well, the punch line referenced the size of Douglas’ penis. 

Comedian Jackie Gayle’s tamer reference was to Kirk’s costar of a couple of years earlier, Johnny Cash.  (Cash’s movie career included his starring role, alongside Douglas, in A Gunfight.)

The Douglas disc contains not only the aforementioned roast, but also an unrelated profile of Dean Martin suggesting, through footage featuring Martin not only in his familiar tux, white shirt and red pocket square but other attire, why Dino was The King of Cool- Always in Fashion.

While American network TV, during the pre-cable era, seldom ventured beyond the suggestive, Martin’s roasts always tested the censors’ limits.  Perhaps the standards and practices team was AWOL when, during theBob Hope roast at the NBC studios in Burbank, California (original air date October 31, 1974), Flip Wilson flippantly referred to “Niggers.”  (Viewers, so accustomed reaction shots of guests-of-honor and roasters laughing their heads off in response to zingers that were seldom so funny as to warrant such displays, were not privy to any facial feedback from fellow celebrity roasters, including, of all people, Billy Graham!)       

Speaking (writing?) of reaction shots, while these DVDs are billed as “complete” roasts, the Bob Hope celebration appears to have been edited.  Else why were sports stars Johnny Bench and Mark Spitz, each of whom joined (fellow) roasters in making an entrance and were seated among them  at the head table, not among the featured speakers saluting Hope?

Posthumously-published books and other recollections about Johnny Carson describe a man who those around him were afraid to cross.  Glimpses of this are, in retrospect, evident in the roast of the Tonight show emcee at NBC’s Burbank studios (original air date: November 2, 1973).  Once again, edits don’t account for the silence of roasters George Gobel and Cliff Robertson. 

Johnny’s third (then current) wife, Joanna joined roasters ranging from Betty Davis to Truman Capote in paying tribute to Carson in an event highlighted by Rich Little’s impression, not only of Johnny’s distinctive voice, but Carson’s equally unique mannerisms captured in a montage, courtesy of Little’s rapid-fire visuals.  

The disc containing the Carson and Hope roasts also contains bonus footage of TV special called Dean’s Place (featuring not only Martin’s comedy but the sketch humor, if not the music, of special guest Jack Cassidy) as well as a tribute to Legends of the Roast, featuring recent footage of Rich Little and, the comedian whose age has rendered him almost unrecognizable to those of us who no longer watch much television and whom he last entertained decades ago: Jack Carter.   

Yet another disc contains “The Dean Martin Comedy Hour” (as the roast telecast was then known), mockfests of Jack Benny  (at NBC-TV’s Burbank studio, original air date: February 22, 1974) and Lucille Ball (at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand, original air date: February 8, 1975) as well as a “Featurette” titled “The Art of the Roast”  (e.g., post-roast era interviews with Jimmie Walker, Carol Burnett, Tim Conway, Florence Henderson and others).

When Jackie Gleason was roasted at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (original air date: February 27, 1975)  The Great One took a ribbing from his reunited Honeymooners’ costars, in addition to insults from some of the familiar roast regulars.   Similarly, Don Rickles’ roast, at NBC’s Burbank studio (original air date: February 8, 1974), was heavy on barbs from Martin roast semi-regulars like  Foster Brooks, Joey Bishop and Nipsey Russell, even as it introduced the surprise element: the appearance of astronaut Gene Cernan, who was called on to add to the mirth.

The Michael Landon roast, at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand (original air date: December 7, 1984), reunited Landon with his TV dad, Lorne Greene, but the best lines came from Bubba Smith (the pro football star and actor) who supposed mistook Landon, first for Michael Jackson and then Michael Douglas (“They all look alike to me”) and Norm Crosby.
(Reflecting on Jackie Kennedy’s remarriage, Crosby asked if Nikita Khrushchev had been assassinated, “Do you think Aristotle Onassis would have married Mrs. Khrushchev?”)

Joan Collins got a roasting from her Dynasty co-star John Forsythe as well as Dynasty producer Aaron Spelling, along with jibes from familiar Dean Martin roast franchise roasters Angie Dickinson, Phyllis Diller,Milton Berle and several others at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (original air date: February 23, 1984).

The Collins disc also features a 1976 TV show titled “Dean Martin’s Red Hot Scandals of 1926.”  1

Finally (though decidedly revisited out of chronological order),  Martin was himself feted early on at the Las Vegas MGM Grand (original air date: February 27, 1976).  On that occasion, political opposites Barry Goldwater and Hubert Humphrey came to together to join Joe Namath  and  the usual roasters (previously named)  in ribbing Dino.  Where else would viewers see Ruth Buzzi hitting Goldwater with her purse and getting it on with Joey Bishop, let alone Howard Cosell singing one of Martin’s signature songs, That’s Amore? 

Sadly, most of the roast participants, including its namesake, are no longer with us.  The roasts' humor is sometimes thin, often racist and sexist and, by today's standards, forbidden.  But these DVDs remain time capsules of 20th century American humor of a certain era which makes for must-see video (at least once) even in the less innocent 21st century.


Darin & Brooke Aldridge

  Flying

Rating *****

 

Darin and Brooke are “flying” with these 10 tracks- but not by the seats of their pants.

On the contrary, each of these songs showcase the duo’s well-orchestrated ability to blend tight, unique harmonies, top bluegrass musicianship and interesting lyrics to their latest collaboration.

Leading off with Maybe Just a Little, a Hayley Dykes Johnson song that brings a bit of lyrical attitude to what are largely happy, even bouncy tunes expressing meaningful sentiments. 

Standout performances include Trying to Make Clocks Slow Down,  I Gotta Have Butterflies and a great cover of the Nanci Griffith and by Tom Russell classic, Outbound Plane that stands with both Griffith's original andSuzy Bogguss' superlative cover.  


Clint Black

  When I Said I Do

Rating *****

 

Yes, the title song of Clint Black’s Cracker Barrel collection of love songs  was a hit 14 years ago.  But Black and his wife/duet partner, Lisa Hartman Black manage to breathe new life into the song, while succeeding in mirroring the original recording.

Clint brings that duality to the re-recordings of his hits (including  Lisa's other duet contribution to this CD, Easy For Me to Say) found here.  

While three of this CD's songs are duets (Clint pairs with Carolyn Dawn Johnson on Our Kind of Love),  the 11 other tracks leave no doubt that Black remains a successful solo singer with plenty of love songs to his credit.

To wit: Black, who these days jokes he is the "Barry White of Clint Blacks," reprises Something That We Do, Like The Rain One Emotion and Half the Man as well as a few of his other releases that didn't chart quite as highly,  along with three new "bonus tracks": Samantha, Only A Woman and my favorite, a song with the same lyrical integrity fans have come to expect from Clint Black (but one focusing on another form of love equally as enduring as several of the romantic recordings referenced previously): She Won't Let Go.




Growling Old Men

 Chicken Feed & Bailing Twine

Rating **** 1/2

 

Growling Old Men,  Ben Winship (mandolin, octave mandolin, mandola and vocals) and John Lowell (guitar and vocals),  have produced with this, their fourth album, an 11-songs "collection of originals and obscure Americana."

With an able assist from David Thompson (bass and harmony),  the duo's clean sound, evocative lyrics, musicianship and simplistically of style definitely tilt toward the bluegrass side of the ledger.  These recordings represent some of John's and Ben's most-requested concert performances.

Ben and John had a hand in writing a handful of these selections. 

Best bets?  Ben's My Name's Mudd details the experience of  a man who was "born with a bad reputation," thanks to a surname that has resulted in attempts to keep a low profile.  The lyrics hint at a genealogical fascination with the kind of family history that has produced both the infamous (Samuel Mudd) and a more-deservingly famous direct descendant (Roger Mudd.)  But name-checkers will find no references to either Samuel or Roger;  only another prominent name- make that a  surname (i.e., Rockefeller)- is name-checked in Winship's lyric.

Billy Gray is not a paean to the actor best-known for his portrayal of James "Bud" Anderson, Jr. on  Father Knows Best.  Rather is Norman Blake's story song about an ill-fated outlaw and his "true love." 

A traditional instrumental, Elzie's Farewell, offers a change of pace, while the guys offers a bit of double-entendre with Ben's composition, Toolshed.   

Growling Old Men seal the deal with a Summefly, a song from the pen of one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Cheryl Wheeler.

The Roys

 Gypsy Runaway Train

Rating ****
 

The Roys' third album is an interesting mix of six original songs and seven bluegrass/gospel and country covers.

You Can Count On My Love, the opener, offers a message of romantic reassurance to allay any doubt. (The song is about that kind of relationship even though rendered by siblings Lee and Elaine Roy).  Another Minute is Lee's tribute to his granddad.  Workin' On It is the lyrical prayer of an imperfect, but grateful, man whose goal is self-improvement.

Enough For Me celebrates contentment while Half of Me is Elaine's take on the pain of divorce with a prayerful plea for help in overcoming a feelings of being "incomplete" with the restoration of a true survivor's independence.

Lee and Elaine offer bluegrass adaptations of  Ramblin' Fever Those Memories of You,  and   I Wonder Where You Are Tonight , while turning in equally convincing covers of 
Blue Moon of Kentucky, Born With a Hammer in My Hand (Blue Highway), What Gives You the Right and  He Took Your Place.

But the title song, the closer, has been wisely chosen as The Roys' first single from this baker's dozen.  I can't think of a better song, a tribute to the duo's fans (and a potential signature song) with which to close Elaine's and Lee's live performances and/or to encore! 
  

Bobby Chitwood

 Gravity

Rating ****
 

Bobby's first single from his fourth country album,  a cover of Jason Mraz' I Won't Give Up, invites (favorable) comparisons, so here goes: Chitwood renders the lyrics with determination  equal to, and in a  few seconds' longer  running time  than, the original.

Indeed,  most of these songs speak to timeless emotions and Bobby notably delivers them all with integrity.  Centerline  is a love song about, well, being centered (think I Walk the Line). 
The Way You Drive Me Crazy is as fun, nuanced look at romance as Faithfully is a wistful exploration of devotion (albeit perhaps misplaced) and Put Your Lips Here (On Mine) is as direct as it is self-explanatory.

Barn on the Rooftop and How Things Are both about making the best of living in the moment.  Priceless, with its wry humor, is as realistic a take on values as the sentiments of the title song are profound.   

What Love Is
 explores the intersection of love and realism while Who I Am brings attitude to mix of pride and challenged self-esteem born of defensiveness.


Jerry Miller

   New Road Under My Wheels

Rating *****


 

As he indicates in liner notes to this 12-song CD, my fellow author Nate Gibson has 15 years on my discovery of Jerry Miller's music.

Miller is a talented singer and pedal steel guitarist with an eclectic bent, as evidenced by guest performances by Miss Tess (featured on the title song,  a Bob Wills classic as well as the closer, End of the Line, another Wills hit), Roy Sludge (reviving Jimmy Walker's chestnut, Detour as well as Tex Williams' vintage paean to the single life, Brother Drop Dead), Eric Rover (featured on Grandpa Jones' classic, Eight More Miles to Louisville) and Eileen Jewell (who makes Billie Holliday's What A Little Moonlight Can Do her own.. 


Miller's musicianship is evident from the opening track, an instrumental titled Travis Express, (pickin' no doubt inspired by Merle Travis) and three other instrumentals, Round 'Em Up, Moon Fallin'  and Slaughter on Roosevelt Boulevard punctuate the other winning performances.



Joanna Mosca

   Let It All Begin

Rating ****
 

Singer/songwriter Joanna Mosca's EP, spotlighting six songs produced by Bryan White,  showcases the Connecticut-born New Yorker's star potential.

Opening with Dream on Savannah (my favorite), the album begins with the musical journey of a woman who ignores others' low expectations of her, emerging triumphant, while  the album's first single, Keep On Driving(an optimism-driven alternative in the face of adversity) builds on a theme of charting your own course. 

Would You Still Be Here ponders the pain of loyalty when it is not reciprocated.  I Guess That Says It All reflects on the "if only" aspects of a failed relationship with the wisdom gained from 20/20 hindsight.

Let It All Begin
 is a musical plea for being open to the possibilities of a new relationship, following at least one failed coupling,  based on the ability to reinvent yourself, while the closer, Where Does Good Love Go (a duet with Richie McDonald) expresses mystification about a relationship that somehow fails to stand the test of time.


Steve Martin & Edie Brickell

   Love Has Come For You

Rating ****

 
 

Does the duo of Steve Martin and Edie Brickell represent the greatest musical pairing since Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé- or what?

We could go there.  (In both instances, the distaff side gets secondary billing...)  

Actually, this review could go a number of directions, driven by the any number of factors beginning with the cover art, a painting borrowed from Martin Mull.

Next it is worth noting that Peter Asher produced this first-time collaboration between lead vocalist Edie Brickell  and Steve Martin (on five-string banjo), with Edie writing most of the lyrics and Steve writing all of the music to a Baker's dozen of songs.  There are also musical assists, not only from Steve's Steep Canyon Rangers but also Esperanza Spalding, Waddy Wachtel, a London boys' choir and  Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins andSean Watkins.

The link between Martin's musicianship and the comedy that made him famous is intertwined not only in several of the offerings here but also in his comedic liner note "response" to Brickell's rather traditionally-expressed liner note thank-yous. 

The title song will resonate with anyone who has experienced the best possible outcome of unwed pregnancy.  Love,  loss, friendship and/or a special bond are a recurring theme many of these songs.  Others,  like Who You Gonna Take?, speak to attractive attributes such as self-confidence.   Shawnee, is the much-missed refugee from a family picnic whose presence would spared those who made it from the unwanted attention of a "creepy cousin" with a "handlebar mustache."  

Remember Me This Way is a plea with which listeners can identify while this listener especially enjoys the offbeat lyrical honesty of Siamese Cat, an exploration of the "package deal" that is often an obstacle to a serious relationship.


The Boxcars

   It's Just A Road

Rating *****

 

The Boxcars' (ADAM STEFFEY,  JOHN BOWMAN, HAROLD NIXON, RON STEWART and KEITH GARRETT)  third album demonstrates why the quintet are the International Bluegrass Music Association's reigning Instrumental Group of the Year,

The 12-song set opens with the group's rendition of Jerry Reed's You Took All the Ramblin' Out of Me.
  Other standards include Richard Marigny Jones' Trouble in Mind Hank Williams' Never Again Will I Knock On Your Door and A.P. Carter's  I'm Leaving You This Lonesome Song.   

The title song is an interesting, if not deflating, take on musicians' (and philosophers' metaphorical) romanticism of the road.   It's an excellent showcase of Keith Garrett's writing skills as are the tales of a heartbreaker known as Cornelia and the forsaken Caryville (co-written with Chris West).

In the mood for an instrumental?  Ron Stewart's Skillet Head Derailed fills the bill.  


Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver

  Roads Well Traveled

Rating ****

 

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver continue to entertain bluegrass fans with these 11 songs, some of which are unexpected diversions, beginning with the opener, a cover of Lee Greenwood's  recording of Dixie Road.

Doyle says he cried when he heard How Do You Say Goodbye to Sixty Years for the first time.  One listen to this poignant tale of loss is enough to let the listener know why.  

Say Hello to Heaven is a commentary on loss,  under markedly different circumstances, that could have- and should have- been prevented.

The wry rendering of It's Hard to Be Forgotten is bluegrass at its best.

Lawson & Quicksilver also impress with a cover of Bryan White's recording of One Small Miracle.  They pay tribute to Dobro Joe and have some fun with Jim & Jesse's Fiddlin' Will.

The King, I'm that Country and When Love is All You Want are all songs of contentment, while 
By the Waters of the Clinch  is yet another stylistic detour on Roads Well Traveled, showcasing the musicianship of Lawson and his talented quintet, in the form of an instrumental.   

Avidya and the Kleshas 

  Tree of Series

Rating *** 1/2

 

Avidya & the Kleshas (lead vocalist Stephanie Carlin, her Craigslist companions- percussionist Wes Reid and bassist Russ Flynn- electric guitarist Xander Naylor and keys/piano man Javi Santiago) blend jazz, funk and avidya (translated from Sanskrit as the incapacity to see something for what it really is) have received the support of Kickstart contributors resulting in this June, 2013 release  (pre-orders available here).

With its Kleshas (i.e., why we suffer) clues (as described in Buddhist texts), these 11 tracks (including the title song) make for an innovative, if somewhat jarring, listening experience. 

While an introduction to the group's music prompts a listener to wonder "Where are they going with this?,"  each selection provides a different answer.

These songs are not for the casual listener. They don't work as background music.

To appreciate this work requires a bit of work.  The listener must be engaged and a thinker by nature.

Body of Lead
 is the first single, but I'm partial to The Human Struggle.


Mike Aiken

  Captains & Cowboys

Rating *****

 

Of all the review copies that have come my way in 2013, this is the best one I've received- so far.

Mike Aiken has written (or, in some cases, co-written) the majority of the 12 songs found here and produced an album that is both true to his experience and imagination in a way that takes his audience along with him.

Coal Train is an improbably catchy song I couldn't help but sing along with as I pondered all of the elements that make it infectious.  The impressiveness of Your Memory Wins (which Aiken co-wrote with Austin Cunningham) is best expressed by Mike himself when he indicates, "When Austin and I set out to write a traditional, cry-in-your-beer song, I don't think either of us thought we'd catch it so close to the bone."

The intricacy of of Night Rider's Lament especially appeals to me, but whether it's the title song. or any of the others found here, they are all attention-getting and thoroughly enjoyable.



Silas Fermoy

  Chapters

Rating *** 1/2

 

Silas Fermoy (Joshua Mash on vocals and keyboards), Jordan Brower on bass and Sam Ellner on guitar) have released three of the six songs on this, the trio's debut EP, for free download on their social network.

While that generosity may not win them as many fans in corporate circles of songwriter as it will among Silas Fermoy's targeted demographic, the creative community must respect that Mash wrote and co-produced each of the Chapters selections.  

What began as a Brooklyn-based collaboration between Mash and Brower has blossomed, with the addition of Ellner, into a trio of rockers that, with songs as strong as Lights Burn Bright, has the potential for longevity.
.

Jay Nash

  Letters from the Lost

Rating ****

 

With 10 albums to his credit, Jay Nash has established himself an Alternative/Americana artist, with the vocal range approaching that of Roy Orbison, in the Lyle Lovett/Bruce Springsteen tradition when not evoking comparisons to Ryan Adams orNeil Diamond.

Nash wrote on each of these nine selections and he also had a hand (along with Craig "The Regulator" Frank and Bill Lefler)  in the production.

Backed by Jonathan Flaugher (bass), Ben Peeler (steel guitar and mandola), Oliver Kraus (strings) and Michael Zsoldos (tenor saxophone), Jay performs his original material with whatever fervor that seemingly inspired his emotional lyrics.  

It's hard to pick out a favorite among these disparate choices.  Some will be partial to the wistfulness of Sometimes or to drawn to the determination of  I Won't Let Go, but since I go for wry humor in a well-constructed lyric I'm partial to The Art Thief.

  Shine On Me:

25th Silver Anniversary Celebration

Rating ****


From the first notes of the title song on this, her seventh album (according to the liner notes- which contradicts the information on Petrella's Web site), Petrella confirms that,  a quarter-century after the Arizonan first came to the attention of Playback Records' president Jack Gale, the "first lady of country soul" still has the chops that caught the interest of Nashville's erstwhile independent label.

Jack and Jim Pierce produced these 11 songs, a few of which have the potential to reignite the national interest Petrella sparked when, after Gale signed the singer/songwriter to his label, Petrella released a succession of albums that included five Cash Box Top 100 chart singles, six singles on the country charts, and yet another single that peaked at #14 on Billboard's Hot Country Sales chart.  

This eclectic collection of songs fuses Petrella's rock, country and gospel influences in such a way that Petrella's flawless performances are a larger draw than the lyrics, but momentum is achieved, and success sustained, with radio hits.  In that regard, Petrella shines not only with the aptly-titled title song, but also with What Good Is A Love Like This (curiously credited to an "unknown" writer and publisher), Working in the USA and the suggestive I Like A Man to Drive.


B.J. Thomas

  The Living Room Sessions

Rating *****



Living Room Sessions, a (don't you love it?) Wrinkled Records release, drops almost 47 years after B.J. Thomas' first gold-selling hit on Scepter Records in the form of an album of "stripped down, intimate acoustic re-imaginings of 12 of his most renowned songs."

The opener, Don't Worry Baby, like I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry (Thomas' first gold record), was a cover version of a standard when Thomas first recorded it and, in that sense (B.J.'s cover of Thomas' cover?), is atypical of  the other songs on what I call a greatest hits collection- with a twist.   

At age 70, Billy Joe Thomas has found a way to breathe new life into the soundtrack of many of our lives by re-interpreting his hits, courtesy of duet partners ranging from Keb Mo (Most of All) to B.J.'s label mate, Etta Britt (New Looks from an Old Lover).`
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Reinterpretation take the form of taking liberties with the instrumentation familiar to Thomas' fans while largely showing respect for the original lyrics.  That, coupled with the guest artists' keeping their egos in check, makes for an objective that is largely fulfilled,  with any reservations coming from purists or simply those expressing personal preference.

Country fans will be especially interested in B.J's collaborations with Vince Gill (I Just Can't Help Believing) and Lyle Lovett (Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head), with a bow to the collection's producer, Kyle Lehning.


                                                                        Flatt Lonesome

Flatt Lonesome

Rating *** 1/2



Flatt Lonesome. (the sibling vocal trio of guitarist Buddy Robertson,  fiddler Charli Robertson, mandolinist,  Kelsi Robertson Harrigill, Kelsi’s husband, banjoist Paul Harrigill, acoustic bassist Dominic Illingworth and reophonic guitarist Michael Stockton) is, above all else, a group of six flexible, young musicians who, while anchored in tradition, are in the forefront of the contemporary wave of bluegrass.

The 11 songs of Flatt Lonesome’s eponymously-titled debut CD kick off with the sextet’s covers of Hazel Dickens You’ll Get No More of Me and Julie and Buddy Miller’s Does My Ring Burn Your Finger.  And to the extent that Jerry Leiber and Billy Edd Wheeler classic is embedded in the brain as a Johnny Cash and June Carter duet, take a listen to Flatt Lonesome cover Jackson bluegrass-style.

One Foot in the Grave is perhaps a penultimate song of indecision while my favorite, the tritely-titled I’m Blue, (penned by Paul Harrigill), is a surprisingly refreshing exploration of, and take on, the emotional theme of its concise title.


Royal Wade Kimes

 A Proud Land (CD)

 Dixie Burns(DVD)

Rating *****





I like to think of Royal Wade Kimes' latest CD as not only a concept album, but, as I envision it, a soundtrack to the Civil War.  In any case, it is a story in song, related from the perspective of a veteran at war's end reflecting back on the sense of duty, as well as all of the division, separation and loss, that brought him and his fellow Americans to that point.

Most of us were born almost a century- if not more than a century- too late to make such a statement about late 19th century reality definitively, but it is a fact that  A Proud Land is the soundtrack to Dixie Burns, a short film that has been shown on Stan Hitchcock's Blue Highways network

The 12 songs showcase Kimes' ability to set what we've all been told in history classes about the emotional drama of War Between the States (and the legend of Jesse James) to music.  This is not an endeavor that Royal Wade takes lightly and it is his dedication to musically telling the tales of, in the case of Frank and Jesse James, brothers united, as well as the emotional narrative of brother against brother (the latter, to Kimes' credit,  in an even-handed manner) that preserves history as we know it while educating and informing listeners in engrossing story-song form.

While the album quite nicely stands alone,  Kimes' fans will be glad to know that 
Dixie Burns (titled after one of the graphic songs depicting the horror of war) is now available on DVD.  The DVD version  (running 24 minutes, courtesy of six minutes of commercials from the TV special having been excised), which Kimes produced and directed, features Royal Wade starring  as a Confederate Commander against a backdrop of Civil War reenactors, a reenactment of the Battle of Shiloh and the music video versions of songs, all of which Kimes wrote,  featured on the CD, including Dixie Burns, Ride the Wagon, Johnny, White Flag I'm Going Home and Have Mercy.

The Rescues

 Blah, Blah, Love and War

Rating *** 




It's a testament to The Rescues (Adrianne Gonzalez, acoustic guitar, electric guitar; Gabriel Mann- piano and keys; Kyler England, acoustic guitar, bass and ukulele; Rob Giles, drums, bass acoustic guitar, electric guitar, string and horn arrangements) that they are now in their fifth year as a quartet with all of the original members still on board and with their music being featured on network TV.

Songwriters credits for the 12-song CD belong to the group collectively as do vocals, while it is noted that the CD is "Produced and Recorded by Rob Giles [with] Additional production and recording on [tracks] 3, 5, 9 by Gabriel Mann.  Track 8 co-produced by Ari Levine." 

Notably, Kyle England took first prize in the 2010 USA Songwriting Competition Country Category.

The otherwise Lennon-McCartney approach to song credits and a hodge-podge production mixture are apparent from the first notes of Did It Really Even Matter?  This is enlightening from the standpoint that one of the few understandable lyrics to the opener explains the album's title.

The energetic, Los Angeles-based rock band appears to older ears, (the only ones I have) more accustomed these days to listening to country music, to shift from their initially loud and (save for an occasional aping of Kurt Cobain despair), largely unintelligible lament (courtesy of an apparent attempt to pay homage to head-banging music that overwhelms the words) to something approaching technopop. As the album progresses, patience is rewarded as The Rescues' versatility becomes more apparent as they showcase their four-part vocal harmonies in a focused mix that enables them to be both heard and understand.

Before I realized that, as previously mentioned, the Rescues wrote each of these songs, I thought perhaps Runaway was a cover of the Del Shannon classic.  The Rescues' song of the same name is one of the half-dozen found here that don't require a lyric sheet and, as such, "rescue" (pardon the pun) the CD from the fate of those discs that merely make good coasters.

The Grascals

 Life Finds A Way

Rating *** 1/2




It's a Grammy-nominated album but, if you're looking for value, the 13 songs on this CD might be your incentive to buy it.

If the thrill of a receiving a Baker's Dozen songs in an economic climate where 12 songs are the usual maximum (with perhaps 10 or 11- or even fewer on an EP- being the norm) doesn't sway your decision to buy or not, there's always the Grascals' consistently tight harmonies and musicianship.  They never disappoint.

As a reviewer, I can even make a case here for innovation.  The Grascals are famous for taking hits from other genres and giving them a bluegrass feel.  For purposes of considering the merits of the songs of this album, let the sextet's recording of 
Sweet Baby James serve as "Exhibit A."

Anyone familiar with story of that James Taylor classic  is not surprised that it has not been covered by artists with anywhere the frequency cover versions of hits of that enormity are regularly released.  So while any attempt at a bluegrass version of the song would, by definition, be considered innovative, the Grascals do not bill themselves as a novelty act.

Innovation and creativity are not the same thing and this album suffers from a lack of creativity.  Some instincts are right:  The title song is probably the strongest.  And Mystery Train isn't so tired that the Grascals' cover can't revive it (not that it needs to be revived), most importantly for a new generation for whom Elvis Presley is known, if at all, as a favorite of the listener's grandparents.         
                                                  
Still They Call Me Love has an interesting "hook" but its point becomes repetitive even before the song's bridge.  Pass It On appears lyrically-interesting and potentially a promotional tool for addiction self-help groups until it becomes the latest in the line of songs witnessing for Jesus.  For these purposes, the more subtle and effective inspirational message appears in the greater "honesty" exhibited in the lyrics of Road to Surrender.

Honky Tonk Lullaby has its moments for those who like cryin' in your beer songs while Eleven Eleven (the album's only instrumental) relieves the tedium of the ordinariness previously addressed in a project that suffers chiefly from a lyrical weakness in the opinion of a jaded reviewer who values commanding lyrics, except when listening to an outstanding instrumental.

Darin & Brooke Aldridge

 Live At Red, White and Bluegrass!

Rating ****




The husband-and-wife team of Darin & Brooke Aldridge chose Morganton, North Carolina's annual Red, White and Bluegrass Festival (an International Bluegrass Music Association Festival of the Year nominee) as the site for a "live" album featuring 12 past, present and potentially future hits. 

The couple's engaging personalities, as reflected by their stage banter, shine as brightly as their musical performances (though the fact Darin and Brooke produced the album may explain why, whatever edits occurred in post production, Brooke's glaring grammatical error during one of these brief asides remains, be it unnoticed by both the couple and executive producers Mickey Gamble and Chris White or merely in support of the live music's goal to keep it real).

In any event, this is an interesting collection of fan favorites beginning with the duo's hit, Lonely Ends Where Love Begins.  Darin and Brooke also manage to add enough spice to their versions of Making Plans, No One Needs To Know and To Know Him Is To Love Him that listeners don't long for the originals (nor even earlier covers!)             
                                                  
He's Already There sounds an inspirational theme worthy of a multicultural society while anyone who has ever put a lot of energy into a relationship that s/he was unable to maintain will appreciate another of the Aldridges' previously released recordings found here, Sweetest Waste of Time.

Brooke and Darin took time when conversing with the Morganton festival audience to thank and spotlight the talented musicians  who were also a part of this project.  
Strangely, the band members and their contributions are not clearly identified in the CD's liner notes, which also lack a lyrics sheet.
   http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00007IT8S/?tag=stacysmusicrowre    

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.


Many of Stacy's earlier online
 Music & Video Reviews are
 archived here, 
here, and here.


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