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tacy's Music Row Report  All Rights Reserved

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.

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Stacy's Ratings


**** Good

*** Promising

** Fair

*Makes A Good Coaster


Sister Hazel 

Rating ****

Earth is the natural title for the fourth in a series of Sister Hazel’s “elements” compilation series, given that the six-track EP is the follow-up to Water, Wind, and Fire.    

This final volume of the series (that would be titled, as I erroneously predicted in my Fire review, “Air”) is the extension of the group’s most recent efforts.

Anyone who has ever parented a child (or who was once a child, for that matter) can identify with Raising a Rookie, an empathetic observation written by Darius Rucker, Barry Dean and Sister Hazel’s own Drew Copeland.

I Don’t Do Well Alone is bit of well-written (by Jerry Flowers and Sister Hazel’s Ken Bock) self-flagellating candor wrapped in self-absorbed dysfunction.

Sister Hazel’s Jett Beres joined Copeland and Dean in the writing of the metaphorical Slow Lightning while Drew and Jett teamed with Billy Montana to write Memphis Rain about a breakup in the Bluff City.

Copeland and Montana continue the breakup theme from a slightly different perspective while Follow The River (with Billy Montana, Randy Montana, Copeland and Beres sharing writers’ credits) speaks to the self-confidence of knowing what to expect from a relationship.

Elements IV (Remember Me) is Bock’s benediction to the elements series.  As for (further) interpretation, I recommend the Hermann Rorschach approach.


Bobby Messano Featuring Bob Malone  

Rating *****

It's hard to pick a favorite from this outstanding 10-song collection; Bobby Messano's ninth solo CD.  Beginning with The Bad Guys, Bobby's first single from the album, Messano sets the stage for the songs that follow, showcasing his pulsating guitar, contemporary blues vocals and quirky sense of humor.  

Heal Me, Bobby's second single (which, like The Bad Guys, Messano wrote with Meredith Reed Salimbeni, to whom he Messano dedicates the project) is the first of eight songs variously featuring Bob Malone's vocals, clarinet, strings and string arrangements. 

Messano and Malone collaborate on the title song, (Bobby's current single; a reasoned response to adversity),  Junk Jam, an intricate instrumental interlude, followed by It's Just the Money That's Missing, a funky, sarcastic truism and bit of ear candy with which many, if not most, creatives can identify. 

Be prepared for the darkness of A Thursday in June and the realism that permeates the songs that follow, including the finale, a CCNY cover, Find the Cost of Freedom.

Blue Sun Rises

Debra Lyn  

Rating *****

This, the Americana/folk singer/songwriter’s third (Nashville-based) Palette Records album, is a departure from the first two.  

Debra Lyn’s inspiration this time around is found in the culture and music of her Irish/Scotch/English heritage.

The opener, Pull Me Down (The Maids of Mitchelstown) fuses original, navigational love lyrics by Debra and producer/arranger Jeff Silverman with a traditional Irish tune. 

The title song finds our protagonist, no longer navigating the waters, lamenting lost love by clinging to the memories that remain.

Traditional British folk (Billy Taylor) and Scottish (The Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond) songs follow, then, lest the listener stay ensconced in a European musical travelogue, Debra sings the praises of personal time (though, admittedly to the beat of Jeff’s Irish step dancing) with a universal theme titled Workin’ for the Money.

Love Will Never Die (featuring the traditional Irish reel The Star of Munster) is a tale of a heart denied choice, followed by Debra’s putting her personal stamp on the classic, Wayfaring Stranger.  

Devil With the Blue Eyes is yet another diversion, conjuring familiar Christian imagery while Preacher Man challenges the judgmental who preach funerals with an agenda that overrides that of memorializing the deceased.

And you don’t have to be Scottish, nor even a drinker, to enjoy Debra’s rendering of The Parting Glass.

The finale, Ode to Billy Taylor (The Sun Rises Blue) builds on Billy Taylor, the aforementioned story-song, taking the sailor’s saga to a new level.

Debra Lyn’s stated mission is to honor her heritage with musical influences “intricately woven into original and traditional songs throughout.”

Mission accomplished!


American Highway

Marty Brown  

Rating **** 1/2

There’s enough precedent for musical second acts that it's a good bet that, with the release of American Highway, Marty Brown, who took "a two decade self-imposed 'break' from major recording," will retain his loyal following (a steadfastness that began for many of us when we first became acquainted with Marty on a pre-true crime edition of CBS' 48 Hours) while winning, literally, a generation of new country-music fans. 

Hedging that bet is the "expect the unexpected" quality, arrangements and musical direction of most of the songs found here. 

Brown and Jon Tiven wrote the picturesque title song.  They also wrote the remainder of these songs, writing  I'm On A Roll (Better Than It's Ever Been) with Marty Brown, Jr.    

The momentum, which hints of a concept album worthy of a movie soundtrack, is broken by Umbrella Lovers.  Yes, it's a creative, imaginative tune, but one that not only breaks the continuity, it sounds like the answer to a musical challenge to incorporate two words that usually don't go together in a song. 

This gimmickry, which often works as a commercially viable radio hit, is redeemed by the remainder of the songs.  These include Casino Winnebago, a song that might exhibit the gimmicky cited above, but one that is saved by its story-song of vivid characters; notably a Korean war vet and his wife, driving down a Blue Ridge highway listening to Proud Mary

Velvet Chains is not the Gary Morris hit of the same name, just as Mona Lisa Smiles is not the song popularized by Rob Slater nor Jane Child, but that shouldn't disappoint Marty Brown fans in the slightest.

Let's Be Frank

Trisha Yearwood  

Rating *****

“That’s a great album!”

So said the young repairman attending to the small cracks in my windshield, as he peered into an open window of my parked Honda, noticing the album jacket for Trisha Yearwood’s Let’s Be Frank on the passenger seat opposite the seat-belted driver.

I hadn’t finished listening to the CD, but that seal of approval from the audience Yearwood hopes to reach may make what follows superfluous.  (I didn’t try to do the repairman's job- I still want to do mine- so here goes:)

As anyone would expect, Trisha’s tribute album contains many of the Frank Sinatra standards fans of Ol' Blue Eyes would insist upon (Witchcraft, All the Way, Come Fly With Me, The Lady is a Tramp et al).  But it also features songs more associated with other artists, such as Judy Garland (Over the RainbowJohn RaittGordon MacRae and Shirley Jones  (If I Loved You), five other standards and a song Sinatra didn't live to hear; the "Ms. Yearwood" and Garth Brooks-penned For the Last Time.  

Trisha's done them "her way."  

Indeed, the beauty of Trisha Yearwood’s interpretations of these songs is that, while singing (mostly) hits from the Big Band era and The Great American Songbook, she doesn’t try to be anyone other than herself- let alone Frank Sinatra.

The result is that, while it ain't country, Let's Be Frank pleases both Yearwood's fans and those of the Chairman of the Board.

Diesel Palomino

Fate McAfee  

Rating  ****

Periodically, what often passes for music has grown so stale that those of us charged with reviewing it are at least as, if not more, excited than our readers when the music (industry) is infused with a breath of fresh air.

Fortunately, the collective "we" have just that in Fate McAfee.  What McAfee lacks in polish, the troubadour more than makes up for with his unvarnished talent.

Make that talents.  Fate writes his own songs, produces them, assists some great musicians with his own instrumental accompaniment (guitar, percussion)  and, of course, provides the largely stream-of-consciousness Americana vocals that permeate his country-folk-rock artistry.

The title track of seven found on this EP appears to be autobiographical, but there are elements of writing about what you know in all of these songs, beginning with Preacherwoman Blues, a song that's "irreverent" and, though reminiscent of, is just enough of a deviation from, The Little Lady Preacher that McAfee doesn't have to worry about being sued by Tom T. Hall.  Hall's sensibilities, along with the intelligence of Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson, seem to variously influence Fate's style and, with respect of Dylan and Kristofferson, delivery.

McAfee's often esoteric lyrics still manage to hit a listener's nerve or produce an identifiable memory of common ground, as the case may be.

The similarity of human experience is the draw Fate, consciously or otherwise, relies upon to great advantage with his growing number of fans.

Love his music or not, Fate's voice (figuratively and literally) cannot be ignored and, in the end, it is his individuality that moves his fan base. 

Walk Through Fire


Rating *****

Yola's debut album, produced by Dan Auerbach for his Easy Eye Sound record label, is the best release I've heard all year.  Two months in, the year is young but if any artist is able to best Yola's work later in the calendar year no one seems more likely to do so than perhaps Yola Carter herself.

While not a member of that Carter Family (though Yola counts those Carters among her musical influences), Yola's relationship with her family of origin, and the hardscrabble life that followed, was a springboard for the sort of turbulence that informs both Yola's commanding vocals and the lyrics of these 12 songs, each of which she wrote or cowrote.

The album's opener, Faraway Look, grabs the listener's attention from its first note and warrants the video treatment it has received. Ride Out in the Country easily finds its audience with its semi-jocular delivery and theme of getting away from it all.  Other highlights include the title song, Still Gone and Keep Me Here (featuring Vince Gill's background vocal).

Note: Rock Me Gently, Yola and her cowriters Dan Auerbach and Joe Allen want you to know, is not an Andy Kim cover.  

Can't get enough of Yola?  Her
2016 EP, Orphan Offering, is available here.


Sister Hazel 

Rating  ****

You don't have to be an astrologer to appreciate Sister Hazel, even as the all-male quintet follows its releases of its Water and Wind EPs with Fire.  (I'm guessing Air is next?)

Fire, a six-song EP, is largely an ethereal excursion; an exploration of love lost, found, enduring and, to state the obvious, endearing.

The title song deviates slightly from the messages of the others in that, with lyrics offering hope and inspiration, it addresses obstacles, mostly self-imposed, standing in the way of  the realization that, having been through the fire, one no longer need take the heat.    

Fire concludes with Elements III (Growin' Up) the third in Sister Hazel's collectible compilation series, hinting that maturity not fully realized might yet be on the horizon.

Personal growth is always a breath of fresh air, so the astrologer in me hopes Sister Hazel is thinking along the same lines; that Elements IV, whatever its subtitle, will be titled, Air.

Hard Way to Go

Jimmy Charles 

Rating  ****

The release of Jimmy Charles’ seven-song EP is the latest fans are hearing from the American Idol (Season 9) alumnus (as opposed to Jimmy Charles, the recording artist of A Million To One fame).

The similarities between the two Jimmys begin and end with the identical stage name.

Most recently Idol’s Jimmy Charles led Nashville’s November, 2018 Cancer Survivors March, crossing the Cumberland River with fellow marchers by way of the JOHN SEIGENTHALER Pedestrian Bridge, in support of Jimmy's #IAMNOTALONE charity, an event preceding the singer/songwriter's prerelease party for Hard Way To Go.

The EP's title song, which closes out an array of material showcasing the range of Jimmy's talent (beginning with the energetic rocker, Blue Spaces, shifting to the pensive torcher, She's Where I Belong, the seemingly autobiographical Rollin' On and the self-explanatory tribute to God and a Woman), is a prayerful  "tale of addiction," choices and consequences.  Other highlights include I Am Not Alone, a paean to faith in troubled times, and Superman (not to be confused with Donna Fargo's 1973 hit of the same name), which offers tear-jerking support to those tasked with the impossible objective of doing and having it all while battling cancer to boot!


Glen Campbell Sings for the King

Glen Campbell 

Rating  ****  

Between 1964 and 1968 Glen Campbell essentially demoed 29 songs earmarked for Elvis Presley.  

A half-century later, 18 of Campbell's reel-to-reel recordings (13 of which impressed Elvis- or perhaps "Colonel" Tom Parker- so much that Presley went on to record the songs himself) have been transferred from the antiquated analog to the modern digital format.   

Innovative digitizing is immediately evidenced from the opening bars of the first of those 13 songs:  Glen's vocal is fused with Elvis' recording, resulting in a true posthumous "duet" version of We Call on Him.  (Most "posthumous duets" attain the label when a living artist adds a vocal to a track recorded by a deceased performer). 

That compelling fusion is followed by Campbell's interpretation of the other songs, all of which were written (or co-written)  most relied-upon songwriter Ben Weisman, with able assists from Weisman's chief collaborator, Sid Wayne and Fred Karger.  Glen puts his own stamp on many of these songs, occasionally lapsing or, as has been suggested, "subtly" shifting, into Elvis impersonator territory, most notably on I Got Love.  

Campbell's uniformly stellar performances are hampered only by the "filler" quality of some of the songs, several culled from Presley's movie soundtracks.  Do The Clam and Clambake, like Spinout, haven't exactly withstood the test of time, yet I did enjoy Glen's revival of How Can You Lose What You Never Had.  

Fortunately, Glen's rendering of this mix of gospel, ballads and uptempo music transcends the weakness of much of the dated material, which is not to say that some of it doesn't hold up.  Rather, the historical significance of unearthing material that has been buried for 50 years is this collection's chief selling point; a selling point not to be minimized when in the capable hands of Glen Campbell, with a nostalgic nod to the King of Rock 'n' Roll.     

Livin' the Dream

Tim Atwood 

                                                       Rating *** 1/2

The release of Tim Atwood's third solo album follows Tim's 38-year tenure as a member of thee Grand Ole Opry staff band; an impressive run that ended with Opry management's 2014 house-cleaning (a stunning, capricious move that also impacted the late Hoot Hester).  

Atwood brings his years of expertise tickling the Opry piano’s ivories and resonant vocal style to a potpourri of classic country, a rock favorite and a newer and/or lesser-known song or two.      

Leading off with a (traditional) Country Medley that would make Don Deal, Buck Owens, Roger Miller, Johnny Paycheck and Ray Price proud, Tim tosses in a couple of other Owens classics (Under Your Spell Again and Cinderella), with another nod to the Bakersfield sound (the Merle Haggard ballad, What Have You Got Planned Tonight, Diana).

Atwood pays homage to Creedence Clearwater Revival with Travelin' Band and salutes Hoyt Axton (Boney Fingers).  Tim’s take on I Love You (What Can I Say) brings back memories of Jerry Reed, while Mom reflects Atwood’s admiration for Garth Brooks’ music.

Tim’s wife, Roxanne (a ghostwriter and former Nashville Network producer and personality) turns duet partner and co-writer (with Gary Gibson) of You Pop My Cork (You Melt My Butter).

Atwood gives romance one last shot with Over the Moon Over You before launching into The Martins' Count Your Blessing.     

Tim sings I’ll Stand Up and Say So with such conviction that he surely has a fan for life in the song’s writer Chuck Day.

The populist paean targets “liberality” and the unnamed “they” who “try to take my rights” away.  Its oversimplified lyrics, which equate the “right to burn our country’s flag” with the act of doing so and advocate a “my way or the highway” approach to religion, not surprisingly, ignore the fact that “the ones who died for the old red, white and blue” historically have been a culturally diverse military whose soldiers died to protect everyone’s freedom (to disagree).

Atwood’s updated version of Day’s recording includes a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance that, predictably, as Francis Bellamy would be the first to point out, suggests displeasure with the Pledge as it was originally written (not to mention the 1923 update). 


Lee Shapiro Plays the Hits of Frankie Valli: A Piano Tribute

Lee Shapiro 

                                                   Rating  **** 1/2 

It’s been years since instrumentals have been regarded as (terrestrial) radio-friendly.  (One of the earliest indications came when the Country Music Association eliminated its “Instrumentalist of the Year” category.)

Some of my favorite recordings are instrumentals and, in my capacity as a music reviewer, I try to do my part to see that they are not overlooked.  Enter Lee Shapiro, whom Four Seasons’ fans remember as the group’s musical director and arranger and as the talent, in his own right, who went on to assist his mentor, Frankie Valli when Valli embarked on a solo career.

Though Lee has gone on to work with many other popular music artists since, with the resurgence in interest in the music of Valli and fellow Jersey Boys, courtesy of Broadway and the silver screen, Shapiro rightly believes many of the hits featuring Four Seasons’ lead singer Frankie’s falsetto adapt themselves to piano solos.  

The result is Shapiro's instrumental interpretations of 10 familiar songs, four of which Can’t Take My Eyes Off of YouMy Eyes Adored You, Swearin’ to God, and Fallen Angel, are really the only true Valli solo releases.  I’ve Got You Under My Skin, like like Save it For Me, was released by “The Four Seasons Featuring the ‘Sound’ of Frankie Valli.”  (The former, of course, was a cover of Frank Sinatra’s original hit version of the Cole Porter classic first performed by Virginia Bruce.)

Dawn and Marlena were Four Seasons’ hits, while Our Day Will Come, Frankie’s 1975 release was one of several covers of Ruby & the Romantics’ #1 hit (released in 1962).

Silence is Golden, written by Seasons’ group member Bob Gaudio and the quartet’s producer, Bob Crewe,was a Seasons’ 1964 B-side, the song is best remembered as a 1967 hit for The Tremeloes.

Music history/marketing lessons aside, Lee Shapiro breathes new life and some new twists into his arrangements of the above-mentioned songs, sticking close to the familiar versions where it makes sense to do so.

Lee and his fellow Hit Men band (including album producer, Jeff Ganz) are, at this writing, performing these favorites as a touring band on their aptly-named Don’t Stop tour.

Don’t Stop pretty much summarizes the reviewer’s sentiments upon hearing Lee’s piano tribute.  Fans won't be able to resist singing along, though, so karaoke,  to say nothing of  Nashville demo material for aspiring singers who don't write music, may well take up the sales slack if  (terrestrial) radio doesn't do its part to make these songs instrumental recurrents.

Can't Be Denied

Mark Wayne Glasmire

Rating *****

Never has an album title/song title better encapsulated the range of a singer/songwriter’s talent.

Mark Wayne Glasmire first got my attention back in 2012  with the release of a self-titled EP.   

Opening with I’ve Got a Feeling, the album's first single, Glasmire sets the stage for 11 other great songs he either wrote or co-wrote, the strongest of which is the title song.  Strongest of the strong since there’s not a bad song among these different takes on love in all of its joy, disappointment and teachable moments (the inclusion of Borderline, being the "sore thumb" exception to the love-themed focus of story songs that might otherwise suggest a concept album classification).   

The wisdom of This Too Shall Pass and Thru My Eyes, a wakeup call of sorts, are particularly not to be missed.

Love & Wealth: The Lost Recordings

The Louvin Brothers

Rating *****

During their career run (1956-1963), Ira and Charlie Louvin (who, as country-music trivia fans know, were actually the Loudermilk brothers) not only amassed a respectable number of hits, their unparalleled sibling harmony and often underrated ability as songwriters was especially appreciated by those of their peers who cut Louvin Brothers-penned material.

Unlike his brother, Charlie lived to see renewed interest in, and appreciation of, the Louvins’ legacy when preservationist-minded contemporary artists recorded the songs of Ira and Charlie.

A few of those covers are among the 29 songs (largely written during the early 1950s), now being released for the first time, that were originally recorded as songwriting demos during the late ‘50s.  Forgotten for the next six decades, this 2-CD set is, with its host of brilliant performances, several cuts above (no pun intended) the quality and, often content, of unearthed acetates.

Leading off with a jolting Spoken Message from Ira Louvin (effectively providing a quasi-scatological introduction to It’s All Off,  written by Charlie, the first of several humorous songs found here), listeners’ with even the shortest attention spans are engrossed.  The a binge-listening session, featuring knee-slappers like Red Hen Boogie and Unpucker, includes more serious songs of love and loss, amid a fair amount of bluegrass twang, and a series of gospel sides.

Other best bets: Television Set (a now-nostalgic, period piece Ira wrote) and Preach the Gospel (a bit of ear candy, largely devoid of the flawed theology permeating lyrics of the more fundamentalist tripe).  

Sadly, I Love God’s Way of Living will leave listeners scratching their heads, with the realization that, for all of its simplicity, had Ira Louvin not lived his life so blatantly challenging the song’s sentiment, like his younger brother, Ira would have sustained a solo career, begun after a professional breakup with Charlie (possibly reuniting professionally if they could heal the personal estrangement) and lived well beyond his 41 years.

Come See About Me (A Benefit for the IBMA Trust Fund)

Various Artists 

Rating  ****

Sideline, Donna Ulisse, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Lonesome River Band, Balsam Range, Love Canon, Darin & Brooke Aldridge, Chris Jones & the Night DriversThe Grascals and the Mountain Home Family have come together in a musical show of solidarity, to offer these performances of 11 songs, with proceeds benefiting the International Bluegrass Music Association  (IBMA) Trust Fund.    

The spirit of unity is apparent from the beginning, setting the tone (no pun intended) of what is to follow with Sideline’s performance of Their Hands Made the Music, Mark Brinkman’s original composition saluting bluegrass’ icons and all of the “pickers” who seek to carry on the tradition.

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver's All of the Good Things We Could Do, with its uplifting call to action, is one of the best songs found here. 

Not so The Grascals’ bluegrass version of The BeatlesHelp!  Though what has, only in recent years, become a tradition that may have begun much earlier with Ray Stevens’ recording of Misty, grassers have been seemingly all but stepping over each other in order to record a song that has become a classic in another genre.

There are three reasons to do so:

1). To improve upon the original by making it your own to the point where the original is all but forgotten.

2. To redress a grievance when a classic was denied the shelf life and/or recurrent status it deserves.


3. To give a classic a comedic turn as Stevens did with a Johnny Mathis hit or to otherwise parody it (think Homer & Jethro, Pinkard & Bowden, Weird Al Yankovic, etc.). 
The Grascals fail all of these objectives, though their desire to assist the IBMA trust fund is, obviously, to be commended.

BTW, songwriters’ credit for Help! reads “John W. Lennon and Paul J. McCartney.”  John Winston Lennon’s co-writer’s full given name is James Paul McCartney.

All of which brings us to the title song.  While it might be a disappointment to The Supremes’ fans, who remember the Motown trio’s 1964 hit of the same name, to country and bluegrass fans Come See About Me is a completely different song, written and first recorded by Conway Twitty in 1977.  

In any event, the Doyle Lawson-produced Come See About Me serves as a historically fitting finale, given new meaning with its We Are The World thrust, courtesy of some 20 performing contributors.  


Sister Hazel 

Rating  ****

Sister Hazel’s six-song EP Wind is a welcome addition to the crowded field of largely upbeat, radio-friendly new releases vying for the attention of music fans everywhere.

With Whirlwind Girl grabbing the most attention (and deservedly so) from those of us receiving prerelease copies I’m also partial to Small Town Living, a paean to what are often seen as nostalgic, though they are arguably timeless, values; ideals certainly worth preserving.

Taken as a whole, Wind evinces Sunshine state sensibilities fashioning an optimism and sense of security that is sometimes tempered by lyrical sentiments of frustration and exasperation.

However, as themes and emotions seemingly run the gamut, this collection, the latest in the six-man-band’s Elements series, proves that, after 25 years together, the Gainesville gang of “sisters” (or, more accurately, “brothers [from another mother]"?) still has it.

From The Crow's Nest


(John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band featuring Herb Pederson, Jon Randall & Mark Fain)

Rating  ****1/2 

Listen To That Beautiful Sound is the title of not only the opening song from this collection, it sets the stage for a series of sonic delights, offset by themes of sadness and tragedy.

If the 15 songs featured on this project, recorded at SHERYL CROW's home studio, atop a horse barn, seem familiar it's because they were one-third of John's limited edition, 2015 three-CD Divertuoso box set now repositioned to reap the rewards of a wider release.

Jorgenson and his all-star collaborators present timeless music, blending story-songs such as Wandering Boy (a snapshot in time of young Rodney Crowell and his Houston roots)  and Whiskey Lullaby (the disturbing, twisted tale of self-destruction) with a few instrumentals ( Ladies Bluff, Feather, Gina) spotlighting the musicianship that brought these respected  pickers in their own right together.  

Second Bloom: The Hits Re-Imaged


Rating  ****1/2

Years ago RCA Records hired me to update Sylvia’s press kit biography.  Part of my assignment was to use the bio as a means of public disclosure of Sylvia’s divorce- though I was not to use the then presumably-stigmatizing “D” word.

The result was, as best I remember, a description that referenced Sylvia as a “newly single, independent woman of the ‘80s”- or something like that.

The reinvention was consistent with the odd inconsistency of Sylvia being known to her fans, from the time of her first major label release, by her first name (a distinction afforded singers like Barbra Streisand, Reba McEntire, and so forth, only after their first and last names were fully pressed in public consciousness).  

Immediately known popularly by her first name, Sylvia was constantly asked her surname.  And, periodically, Sylvia has added that maiden name or married name, as seemed to make sense at the time, for performance billing or other promotional purposes.

Sylvia brings that same deliberation to the task of choosing just 10 career favorites, then, respecting listeners’ reverence for the originals, re-imaging them with a 21st century sound that showcases Sylvia’a creativity and artistic growth along with the work of today’s most in-demand musicians and background vocalists (not to mention the iconic Jim Glaser).

Sylvia fulfills her challenge to bridge that gap between the performances that created her fan base and the artistic growth that has sustained it. All the while Sylvia manages to keep the integrity of the partnerships she formed with the songwriting team of Kye Fleming and Dennis Morgan (Nobody, Tumbleweed, Sweet Yesterday, Like Nothing Ever Happened, Snapshot and- the only song in this collection that wasn’t released as a single- You Can’t Go Back Home) and the other songwriters whose work is also featured here.

And, just to underscore that, with the passage of time, you really can’t go home again, Sylvia’s 1985 Top 10 hit, I Love You By Heart  (written by Jerry Gillespie and Stan Webb) featured Michael Johnson.  That pairing of solo artists is sobering in light of the notation, on Second Bloom...'s track listing of I Love You By Heart.  This time out, Sylvia relies on background singers to take up the slack as she dedicates her performance "in memory of Michael Johnson."

Crazy Like Me

 Billy Burnette

Rating  ****1/2 

Heard in tandem with Billy Burnette’s book of the same name (reviewed here) or purchased as a standalone musical treat, these 14 songs feature Billy Burnette at this best.

Now rockin’ with a Medicare card (issued May 8, 2018), Billy has lost none of his arresting musical inheritance; the chops, musicianship and swagger that brought him to the attention of his erstwhile bandmates, Fleetwood Mac.

Billy accurately describes his latest album as a “mish-mosh of hits and things people have never heard.”  

Burnette opens with his appropriately-energized version of Tear It Up, the classic written and recorded by The Rock ‘N Roll Trio rockabilly pioneers Dorsey Burnette, Johnny Burnette and Paul Burlison.  Billy first released the raucous, infectious audience favorite on his self-titled CBS in 1980 and later Fleetwood Mac seized the opportunity to adopt it as its standard response to its stage audiences’ demands for an encore.

Burnette’s performance of (All I Can Do) Is Dream You, a song Billy and David Malloy wrote for Roy Orbison, makes it easy to understand why Orbison embraced the lyric.

The title song (which Billy wrote with Dennis Morgan and Shawn Camp) evokes appreciation for a mirror-imaged mate. 

Billy’s rendering of River of Love, another Burnette, Morgan and Camp copyright, will please Burnette’s fans as much as George Strait’s cut (which became Strait’s 57th number one single in 2008.

Billy’s ability to make Do I Ever Cross Your Mind (co-written with Michael Smotherman) Burnette’s own is quite a testament to those who might wonder if it’s possible to breathe new life into a song sung by Ray Charles and Bonnie Raitt   

It's Late is yet another example of Billy’s timeless musical tributes to his father, Dorsey Burnette (who wrote it) and to the Burnettes' friend, Ricky Nelson, who had the 1959 hit version. 

So grab your blue suede dancin’ shoes (saddle shoes will do) and let Billy Burnette supply the rockabilly.  You still have it- and so does Billy!


Just Like in the Movies

 Southern Halo

Rating *****

Jana Kramer may have written (with Brian Kierulf and Catt Gravitt) and recorded it first, but the title song, one of 14 found on Southern Halo’s newest release, and project finale, is a perfect fit for what the sister trio’s Natalia “Nata” Morris quite rightly describes as a concept album.  

Indeed, with only a year in age separating the eldest Morris sister (Nata) from middle sister Hannah, with Christina (“Tinka”) Morris arriving a year after Hannah’s birth,  the Morris sisters are close enough in age, not to mention DNA, to have experienced the gamut of emotions that tie the themes of these songs together.

The lyrics to Southern Halo (which Nata cowrote with Roxie Dean) answer the questions of why and how the Morris sisters bill themselves as something more attention-getting than- well, say, The Morris Sisters.

As a matter of fact, the (semi)-autobiographical themes throughout these songs resonate with songs like My Girls and Me (suggesting, like Sisters Sledge, the Morris siblings, too “are family” with an unbreakable bond), Missing Mississippi (and what homesick native, born into a generation for whom the Dixiecrats are largely ancient history, doesn’t pine for the Magnolia state?) and Famous (Nata and cowriter Alex Dooley’s somewhat tongue-in-cheek take on celebrity).  

Listening to Notice Me it seem like the song should be titled “Hey Boy.”  Until, a few songs later, a song with an entirely different theme actually titled Hey Boy appears.

Not a celebrity?  No sisters?  Not from Mississippi?

No problem. 

If you over-analyze, are resilient, have been in love, have been dumped when you didn’t see it coming and/or have found your soul mate, you’ll want to add Just Like in the Movies to your collection.                                                                                        

Front and Center


Rating  ****

Sideline‘s fourth album includes 12 songs- like most LPs used to- that are an eclectic blend of old-time bluegrass instrumentation with traditional Christian dogma and familiar lyrical themes.

There are story songs of complex characters like Thunder Dan and (to a lesser degree) Lysander Hayes along with salutes to other influences such as a Bluefield WV Mtn. Girl.  Along the way, things get a little bit preachy for those not among the flock (I Long to See His Face, Satan’s Chains), while another values song, Old Time Way will either strike a chord or seem less than innovative, depending upon the listener’s mindset.

Along the way listeners are treated to a mix of memories and melancholy with Sideline’s interpretation of Gordon Lightfoot’s Song for a Winter’s Night being a real standout.   

Sideline closes with a little dance music; an instrumental version of Cotton Eyed Joe that heightens fans’ awareness of the sextet’s musicianship that positions them Front and Center.  

Here's To You

 Montgomery Gentry

Rating  ****

Here’s To You would be memorable, and otherwise have an historical significance, simply because the album was recorded only days before Troy Gentry's death from injuries sustained in a helicopter crash.

Posthumously issued releases traditionally sell more copies than those that drop (no pun intended) independent of such sorrow, but Eddie Montgomery remains very much alive and has vowed to memorialize Gentry by continuing the duo’s music.

Thankfully, Montgomery is able to do so on the strength of an album that stands on its own, beginning with Shotgun Wedding a lyrically-clever story-song, written by Eddie, Phillip Eugene O’Donnell and Gary Hannon, that works despite (or perhaps because of) what Troy opined was the song’s similarity to Hillbilly Shoes.

Better Me, written by Jamie Moore, Randy Montana and Josh Hoge, the first single out of the chute, is thought to be a song Gentry wished he’d written himself.   Played during Troy’s funeral, the song seems autobiographical, in that, by all accounts, during what turned out to be the last years of his life, Gentry was beginning to take stock of his choices and was working to change what needed improvement.   

I found eight of the remaining 10 songs variously entertaining, this, despite the fact that a couple of them aren't all that strong.  Needing a Beer is a reworked update of a song or, more accurately, a series of songs, variously pandering, or paying homage, to the working man/people, patriots/those thought to be conservative/fringe Republicans, white collar professionals or whatever demographics are deemed currently topical and, in this case, Montgomery Gentry fans.

“God Bless America, Baby,” indeed!

Similarly, That’s The Thing about America is a reworked update of any number of songs; in this case those purporting to be patriotic statements about polarizing points-of-view and the freedom to express them.     

The message is tolerance, but given two drastically opposing views on several issues and the sometimes stereotypically-inflammatory manner in which the lyrics address them, the listener knows exactly where the Troy stood and where the writers (Craig Wiseman, Jeffrey Steele and Shane Minor) and Eddie Montgomery stand.  


 Sister Hazel

Rating *****

If you enjoyed Unplugged from Daryl’s House Club you’ll love Sister Hazel’s newest release, Water.    

An EP with seven great tracks, Water features a song for every mood just as H2O, whether it represents drowning, a raindrop or a tear, arguably figures figuratively, if not literally, in the themes of all of these message songs.

Roll On Bye has a breezy, carefree vibe bolstered with lyrics that exude confidence consistent with knowing the water's always fine when your significant other has your back.

The First Time second-guesses as it ponders the what ifs of a broken relationship.

You Won’t See Me Again is the title of a story song embodying dark despondency followed by (spoiler alert?) prayerful recovery.

Shelter is a song about just that- the importance of protection from the elements, others and sometimes even that which is less than your best self.

I Stayed for the Girl is a proclamation offering a new twist on the decisions we make when dueling desires and/or priorities force our hands.

More Than I Want To is a tale of falling short of your own expectations, or the person you’d like to be, and somehow being present enough in a relationship to where it might work.

The collection rounds out with Elements Part 1 (Abilene) a rather strange karmic refrain; but one that works even though listeners can’t imagine- or maybe we can- what is missing in the absence of a “Part Two.”

Bold Like A Lion

 Meghan Linsey

Rating  **** 1/2   

According to a news release issued by Meghan Linsey's publicist, Joey Amato, Linsey calls this the best album she's ever released.

Reviewers had some fun with Jeanne Pruett when, over the course of her recording career, Jeanne would appear with Ralph Emery and proclaim, like clockwork, the same superlative sentiment about whatever her newest release happened to be with each of Pruett’s singles over Meghan may well be right. This CD’s baker’s dozen of largely well-written songs, variously infused with energy, attitude, independence (or the lack thereof), and social conscience, begin with a roar (no pun intended), right out of the box, as the title song opens with lyrics and a sentiment that sets the tone for what follows.

Mr. Homewrecker, Bold…’s first single, lays the responsibility for breaking vows where it belongs.  Say It To My Face (featuring Aloe Blaco) is a self-explanatory message to Internet trolls.  Freak 4 the Beat (featuring Fred Schneider of the B52s), if properly promoted, will certainly broaden Meghan’s audience, more accustomed to the nuance defining the fine line between Exes and Friends.

I could do without Lover (I find it repetitive and not especially creative filler) but record-buyers, assuming they agree, will  readily overlook this lapse, realizing that one-third of the proceeds from Bold Like A Lion are earmarked for Phlando Feeds the Children, “an organization created in memory of Philando Castile, which raises money to provide lunches for elementary school children.”

The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson: All-Star Concert Celebration

 Various Artists

Rating  **** 

A twist on the usual tribute album, this CD version is, in effect, an edited version of live performances, featuring not only other artists singing the honoree’s song, but performances by the subject of the tribute himself (i.e., Kris Kristofferson).  

If that’s not enough, the CD release roughly coincided with a 90-minute concert film version of the celebratory evening of March 16, 2016 at the Bridgestone Arena (debuting on CMT October 27, 2017 and rerun periodically thereafter) as well as yet another attempt to capture the total experience with a DVD version.

Yet only the concert itself captured the total experience.  The various edits result in the need for some clarification from Rob Rauffer:  Lady Antebellum (Help Me Make It Through the Night) and Darius Rucker (Under the Gun) are on the broadcast, CD and DVD.  Martina McBride (Here Comes That Rainbow Again) is on the CD and DVD but not the broadcast."   

As someone who would rather hear Kris sing his own songs, or failing that, hear them from Johnny Cash, Sammi Smith, Ray Price, Roy Drusky and Billy Walker, (who, had they lived, would have the most logical choices for any multimedia Kristofferson tribute project),  I’m probably not the best one to review these performances.  Though the artists mostly stick to the original melodies and lyrics, the slightest deviation drives me crazy.

But, to paraphrase Hank Williams, Jr., if you want Bocephus’ participation in the project, as Kris (or someone Kristofferson deferred to) evidently did, as the artist best-suited to sing If You Don’t Like Hank Williams…,” then Hank, Jr.’s taking the most number of liberties with a Kristofferson song of any of the participants paying tribute was part of what it took to secure Bocephus’ participation.

Some of the artists, who have no discernible connection to Kris, appeared to have spotted a gravy train and jumped on board.  In industry terms, being able to market marquee names, as being associated with an industry “legend” who, paradoxically, has been long put out to pasture, give the project street cred that, in turn, translate to sales.

But if the listener can take, at face value, Eric Church’s explanation of why pairing him with To Beat the Devil has not only context but relevance for Eric’s fans, then it’s easier to believe that Kris’ music has some relevance to those cast as his acolytes- even if, “in real life,” they’re not cutting any of his chestnuts (i.e., the ones like A Moment of Forever that have not already been covered to death) for their own projects.  

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