Howdy, neighbors! It's summertime, and the livin' is easy... My squash and green beans are still doing great and my tomatoes are about to explode. So, yeah, I'm having fun with that. Even more fun when I get to hang out in the back forty with the twangtunes on...This page is for reviews of new country, bluegrass and Americana records that I had the good fortune to listen to in 2016, and may also include reviews of reissues and some slightly older stuff that's new to me. This page gets updated constantly, so check back when you can... Also, check out my full Guide To Hick Music for a bazillion more record reviews and artist profiles.
BTW, if you want to see where I've been putting most of my creative Slipcue mojo the last few years, I'm still plugging away on my Locals Only country section, which is devoted to unsigned and off-the-radar artists from the 1950s, '60s, '70s and '80s -- back in the dim, dark days before there was an "Americana" genre. Lots of cool (and weird) stuff there, and I am always looking for information about all those long-forgotten bar bands and kooky old locals with self-released records. Feel free to get in touch if you have any recommendations or stories to share.
And for those of you looking for info on new stuff... Just keep reading below!
New Stuff: Anno 2016 (Page 3)
Tommy Alexander "Old News" (Su Casa)
Moe Bandy "Lucky Me" (Bandy Productions)
Kristin Scott Benson "Stringworks" (Mountain Home Music Company)
Mike Eldred Trio "Baptist Town" (Great Western Recording Co.)
Robert Ellis "Robert Ellis" (New West)
Freddy & Francine "Gung Ho" (F&F Records)
Mickey Galyean & Cullen's Bridge "My Daddy's Grass" (Rebel Records)
The Highwaymen "Live: American Outlaws" (Columbia-Legacy) (CD/DVD)
The Highwaymen "The Very Best Of The Highwaymen" (Columbia-Legacy)
The Honeycutters "On The Ropes" (Organic Records)
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver "Burden Bearer" (Mountain Home Music Co.)
Rebekah Long "Here I Am" (Luk Records)
Rod Melancon "LA 14" (EP) (Blue Elan Records)
Van Morrison "...It's Too Late to Stop Now: Volumes II, III, IV" (CD & DVD) (Sony Music)
Willie Nelson "For The Good Times: A Tribute To Ray Price" (Sony Legacy)
New Town "Harlan Road" (Mountain Home Music Co.)
Dolly Parton "Pure And Simple" (Sony Nashville)
Clark Paterson "The Final Tradition" (Self-released)
Price Sisters "The Price Sisters" (Rebel Records)
Ilya Toshinskiy "Red Grass" (Hadley Music Group)
Trinity River Band "Things We Do For Dreams" (Orange Blossom Records)
Trio "The Complete Collection" (Rhino Records)
Trio "My Dear Companion" (Rhino Records)
Volume Five "Drifter" (Mountain Fever Records)
Sara Watkins "Young In All The Wrong Ways" (New West)
The Way Down Wanderers "The Way Down Wanderers" (Self-released)
Cody Webb "Cody Webb" (EP) (Monument Entertainment)
Wild Ponies "Radiant" (No Evil Records)
Jim & Lynna Woolsey "Heart And Soul, Blood And Bone!!!" (Broken Record Records)
Various Artists "I SAW THE LIGHT" (Soundtrack) (Sony Pictures Classics)
Tommy Alexander "Old News" (Su Casa Records, 2016)
Moe Bandy "Lucky Me" (Bandy Productions, 2016)
(Produced by Jimmy Capps)
I've been a Bandy fan for years and look forward to checking this one out... For one thing, it's his first album in ten years! Guest performers include the Oak Ridge Boys, cowboy revivalists Riders In The Sky and bluegrass patriarch Ricky Skaggs... Sounds good to me!
Kristin Scott Benson "Stringworks" (Mountain Home Music Company, 2016)
(Produced by Kristin Scott Benson, Van Atkins & Cody Kilby)
A rock-solid bluegrass set from banjoist Kirsten Scott Benson, also known for her work with the Nashville-based band, The Grascals... The performances on this album are uniformly strong and committed, with Ms. Benson providing sizzling but understated licks throughout. It's a technically polished production, but largely she avoids the too-smooth, by-the-numbers feel of much modern 'grass. Benson's also a gracious and generous host, letting guests such as Terry Eldredge, Mickey Harris, Chris Jones, Shawn Lane, Rhonda Vincent, and Grant Williams sing lead on the vocal tunes, as well as letting her fellow pickers shine, including her husband, Wayne Benson, who plays some mighty sweet mandolin. A very nice record!
The Mike Eldred Trio "Baptist Town" (Great Western Recording Co., 2016)
(Produced by Mike Eldred)
Pretty sweet. This compact modern blues trio project a strong, confident, convincing sound while running through a wide variety of styles. I think it helps that these guys -- LA's Mike Eldred on vocals and guitar, along with Blasters sidemen Jerry Angel on drums and Mike Bazz on bass -- aren't newbies, but rather edging into middle age, and they bring depth and restraint to their performances, be it apocalyptic soul-funk-gospel, Delta blues, soulful acoustic folk or straight-up stomping roots-rock/urban blues. I was impressed. You might be too, particularly if you're a fan of, say, Los Lobos or Dave Alvin. '80s blueman Robert Cray guests on one track, as do David Hildago and John Mayer on others. Recommended!
Robert Ellis "Robert Ellis" (New West, 2016)
(Produced by Robert Ellis & Kelly Doyle)
Freddy & Francine "Gung Ho" (F&F Records, 2016)
(Produced by Todd Sickafoose)
Mickey Galyean & Cullen's Bridge "My Daddy's Grass" (Rebel Records, 2016)
(Produced by Mickey Galyean & Cullen's Bridge)
Sweet-sounding North Carolina truegrass -- down-to-earth and dyed-in-the-wool, with plenty of twang and soul. The album opens with one of those wink-wink, double-entendre songs hinting at a connection between bluegrass and marijuana, while also namedropping every golden-era bluegrass legend you can imagine. The entire record is a perfect example of finely honed truegrass, with strong picking that retains a rough, rural edge. Galyean also digs deep into gospel material, including a fine version of the oldie, "We'll Be Sweethearts In Heaven," with guest artist James King adding beautiful harmony vocals. The band includes Mickey Galyean on guitar and lead vocals, with Rick Pardue (banjo), Brad Hiatt (bass) and Billy Hawks (fiddle) and boy do they sound good!
The Highwaymen "Live: American Outlaws" (Columbia-Legacy, 2016) (CD/DVD)
The gray, grizzled road warriors of this country-elder supergroup thrilled fans through several albums and, for the lucky few, in concert. And now those of us who missed them live can play a little catch-up, with this 4-disc CD/DVD set which includes a finely-produced concert video, capturing Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson jamming together at Uniondale, New York's Nassau Coliseum, way back in 1990. The copious live tracks on the audio discs are groovy, but for many the real draw will be the video, the chance to see these guys up close and in action. It's pretty cool! (Needless to say, the video portion is not available on the MP3 version...) In addition to a few dozen live Highwaymen songs, this collection also includes related material, such as a previously unreleased alternate version of Bob Dylan's "One Too Many Mornings," originally recorded by Cash and Jennings in '86, and tinkered with a couple of years back to dub in new vocals by Willie and Kris. Overall, fans of all four artists oughta be thrilled.
The Highwaymen "The Very Best Of The Highwaymen" (Columbia-Legacy, 2016)
Along with the new box set, Sony has released a more modest best-of collection drawing on the original studio albums, as well as a taste of the newly-available concert material. This includes four previously unreleased tracks, including live versions of "Big River," "City Of New Orleans" and "The King Is Gone," all of which are also part of the box set... A good introduction to the band, though most fans might just want to head straight for the sexy set.
The Honeycutters "On The Ropes" (Organic Records, 2016)
(Produced by Amanda Anne Platt, Tim Surrett & Van Atkins)
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver "Burden Bearer: Bluegrass Gospel & A Capella Favorites" (Mountain Home Music Co., 2016)
(Produced by Doyle Lawson & Josh Swift)
A new album by bluegrass bandleader Doyle Lawson is always a cause for celebration... In recent years I appreciated his brief return to secular material, but you gotta admit, nobody does gospel quite like Mr. Lawson. This album spotlights Quicksilver's immaculate vocal harmonies, in both fully orchestrated twang and shimmering a capella arrangements. This edition of the band features Lawson on low tenor and baritone, with guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Josh Swift, Joe Dean on banjo, fiddler Stephen Burwell and pickers Eli Johnston and Dustin Pyrtle so surround an bear him aloft. As always, the Quicksilver band serves as an incubator for top talent, and those these guys may be new names for many, I'm sure we'll hear much more from them in years to come. Another great record from Lawson and company... bluegrass gospel doesn't get better than this!
Rebekah Long "Here I Am" (Luk Records, 2016)
(Produced by Donna Ulisse)
Nice record. An understated set that's anchored in bluegrass, but easily drifts into softer acoustic country-folk, with echoes of early '70s Dolly Parton in the mix. Dunno much about Rebekah Long, but I sure like her sound. The stripped-down, unfussy production perfectly frames her slightly raspy voice, bringing forth a strong and immediate presence -- a real, live human being emerging from your speakers. Producer Donna Ulisse adds beautiful, seamless harmony vocals as well as her own studio band who have, I think, perfected their formula for soulful, down-to-earth, ego-free bluegrass accompaniment. Most of the songs are originals co-written with Ulisse and her crew, though there are several pleasantly surprising country covers as well, drawing on late '60s/early '70s gems such as Merle Haggard's "Fightin' Side Of Me" and Mel Tillis's ever-goofy "Unmitigated Gall," and even a cover of the old Terri Gibbs hit, "Somebody's Knocking." If you like your twang simple and sweet, you might wanna check this one out.
Rod Melancon "LA 14" (EP) (Blue Elan Records, 2016)
(Produced by Brian Whelan & Mark Rains)
Though this has the look of an indie-label country artist shooting for Top Forty success, singer Rod Melancon actually has more of an Americana-roots music vibe, recalling moodier twangsters such as Dave Alvin or Buddy Miller, with maybe even a hint of John Prine in there as well... Yeah, there are a couple of guitar solos I could live without, but mostly this was a nice surprise. Melancon's been around for a while and has several albums out... I look forward to hearing his next full-length, though this EP was nice for now.
Van Morrison "...It's Too Late to Stop Now...Volumes II, III, IV" (CD & DVD) (Sony Music Group, 2016)
Though I do dearly love Van Morrison's first band, Them, as well his early solo pop stuff from the "Brown Eyed Girl" era, it's his languid, richly mystical jazz-folk poetry-improvs of the early '70s that really sets the benchmark for his genius and eternal appeal. This four-disc CD/DVD combo comes from that time, capturing four shows from 1973 where Morrison and his Caledonia Soul Orchestra delve deep into roots music soul. This is a strong, confident band, taking huge leaps into experimental, genre-busting new terrain, with bold, exploratory solos and a commitment to improvisation and immediacy that leads to radically different interpretations of well-known classic material. Longtime fans who have flocked to his shows or tracked down old bootlegs may not be surprised by these recordings, but they will delight in their newfound availability, particularly in such high-quality, beautifully remastered versions. The real treasure here is the DVD video, with extensive footage of Morrison performing at his creative peak during a July 24 show at the Rainbow ballroom in London -- in short: wow. Newcomers and devoted fans alike will find a lot to celebrate here.
Willie Nelson "For The Good Times: A Tribute To Ray Price" (Sony Legacy, 2016)
New Town "Harlan Road" (Mountain Home Music Co., 2016)
(Produced by Barry Bales, Van Atkins & Scott Barnett)
Dolly Parton "Pure And Simple" (Sony Nashville, 2016)
(Produced by Dolly Parton)
Looks like Dolly's doing another back-to-basics album... So, yay. This time around she's recording a set of all self-penned material, including some of her older songs that she's revisiting in the modern era. Looking forward to checking it out!
Clark Paterson "The Final Tradition" (Clark Paterson, 2015)
(Produced by Eric McConnell & Clark Paterson)
Price Sisters "The Price Sisters" (Rebel Records, 2016)
(Produced by Bil VornDick)
Ilya Toshinskiy "Red Grass" (Hadley Music Group, 2016)
(Produced by Ilya Toshinskiy)
A nice, solid set of all-instrumental bluegrass from banjo picker Ilya Toshinskiy, known for his work with the Russian 'grass band, Bering Strait. It's strong album with high-powered collaborators such as Luke Bulla on fiddle, Jerry Douglas on dobro, Sam Bush, Aubrey Haynie and Andy Leftwich pickin' mandolin... ya see what I'm saying? All the songs are original compositions by Toshinskiy, both contemplative and uptempo material, some of which shows his classical training, but also plenty of rollicking twang. If you're a banjo fan, you might wanna check this one out.
Trinity River Band "Things We Do For Dreams" (Orange Blossom Records, 2016)
(Produced by Joshua Harris, Mike Harris & Will Shenk)
Trio "The Complete Collection" (Rhino Records, 2016)
The harmony-laden supergroup of Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt was for many country-roots fans a dream come true... The gals who came to call themselves Trio had been pals for a long time, appearing as guests on each others' albums throughout the '70s and early '80s. Their first album from 1987 was a musical sensation and a commercial hit, and their subsequent albums were satisfying as well, if a bit on the smooth side. This 3-CD set gathers tons of Trio material, including a number of previously unreleased outtakes. A few of the outtakes are also included on the single-disc best-of collection below.
Trio "My Dear Companion" (Rhino Records, 2016)
This single-disc best-of collection includes four bonus tracks of unreleased songs or alternate versions, including "Calling My Children Home," "Do I Ever Cross Your Mind," "Waltz Across Texas Tonight," and "Wildflowers." There's even more material to mine on the box set, but even budget-conscious fans will find these tracks pretty satisfying. They sure did sound sweet together!
Volume Five "Drifter" (Mountain Fever Records, 2016)
(Produced by Volume Five & Aaron Ramsey)
Sara Watkins "Young In All The Wrong Ways" (New West Records, 2016)
(Produced by Gabe Wichter)
A remarkable albu, on a number of fronts. Sara Watkins, late of the band Nickel Creek, digs deeper into the gentle, contemplative side of her adult-alt-acoustic melange, crafting a number of sweetly resonant folksongs, but she also tilts full-force into a more robust, muscular style that may signal a more profound change of direction. This album's opening track, "Young In All The Wrong Ways," sound big and brash and indeed could fit right in within a certain stratum of Nashville top country radio -- I'm serious: Sara Watkins could bust into the Top Forty if she wanted to, and maybe she does. That said, the softer stuff appeals to me more, on this album more than others... These are well-crafted, elegant songs, with a sharply defined personal perspective -- the gooey amorphousness of her earlier cross-genre explorations has been replaced by a precision, clarity and depth that cements her position as an Americana idol... But the bigger, punchier pop arrangements may signal a shift onto an even bigger stage. Time will tell. Also rather nice on here are the three-way harmonies with Watkins, Aiofe O'Donovan and Sarah Jarosz, sort of an alt-twang "Trio" in the making. All in all, a really nice record.
The Way Down Wanderers "The Way Down Wanderers" (Self-released, 2016)
(Produced by Mike Marsh)
Cody Webb "Cody Webb" (EP) (Monument Entertainment, 2016)
Wild Ponies "Radiant" (No Evil Records, 2016)
(Produced by Tres Sasser)
Jim & Lynna Woolsey "Heart And Soul, Blood And Bone!!!" (Broken Record Records, 2016)
(Produced by Mike Sumner)
Various Artists "I SAW THE LIGHT" (Soundtrack) (Sony Pictures Classics, 2016)
Hick Music Index