Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Best Albums of 2015

2015 has seen an excellent year in Americana and country music album releases, including many of my favorite artists.  The selections range from industry veterans to newer artists, all having had a banner year in critical or commercial success.

Jason Boland & The Stragglers released their latest "Squelch" on October 9th.  A study in social and political issues, the band's eighth studio album delivers a heavy dose of reality, punctuated with pedal steel and fiddle throughout.  An exquisite example of what modern country music should be, intelligent, hard hitting lyrics and heartfelt vocals.  Standout tracks include "Bienville," "Heartland Bypass," "Holy Relic Sale," "The First To Know," and "Break 19."  

One of the best of this year came from the April release of Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers' collaboration "Hold My Beer Vol. I."  Beginning to end, this album is a wonderful listen, richly steeped in pedal steel, fiddle, and impeccable harmonies.  Favorite cuts are "Til It Does," "In My Next Life," "Standards," and "El Dorado."

June saw the release of "So This Is Life" by Courtney Patton.  This album is about as perfect as a traditional country album can get.  Full of heartbreaking lyrics, lovely instruments, and Patton's beautiful voice, every song is a story brought to life in stark detail.  Favorites are the title cut, "Little Black Dress," "War Of Art," "Need For Wanting," "Twelve Days," "Killing Time," and "But I Did."  

Jamie Lin Wilson released her first full length solo album in May.  "Holidays & Wedding Rings" is a captivating journey in heartbreak, cheating, murder, and love.  Wilson's honeyed vocals soar on favorites "Just Like Heartache," "Yours & Mine," "Moving Along," You Left My Chair," and the stunning duet with Wade Bowen "Just Some Things."  

The Turnpike Troubadours released their fourth album, self-titled, in September.  Continuing where "Goodbye Normal Street" left off in 2012, the band has a unique country/bluegrass/Americana sound with smart lyrics.  Standouts include "Ringing In The Year," "The Mercury," "Long Drive Home," "Fall Out Of Love," and the revamped version of "Easton & Main."  

August saw the release of Lindi Ortega's fourth album "Faded Gloryville."  Always lush on vocals and instruments, "Faded" offers a glance at the downtrodden, which seems to be a theme running through this collection.  Favorites include the title track, "Ashes," I Ain't The Girl," and " Someday Soon."  

The Black Lillies released their highly anticipated fourth CD in October.  "Hard To Please" is breathtaking in places, soaring on heartbreak and murder ballads, as well as tender love songs.  Favorite tracks include "That's The Way It Goes Down," "The First Time," "Bound To Roam," "Dancin'," "Desire," and the title track.  

October also saw the release of Corb Lund's "Things That Can't Be Undone."  Possibly Lund's finest album to date, the songs range from the comical to the serious regarding war, ranching, and loss.  This album should resonate with fans more than ever, considering there's a new maturity to the music.  Standouts include "Weight Of The Gun," "Run This Town," "Sadr City," "S Lazy H," and "Goodbye Colorado."  

Kacey Musgraves' second major label album "Pageant Material" dropped in June.  Another heavy hitting collection of songs full of humor and small town themes, Musgraves never fails to surprise with an array of subjects.  "Pageant" has a very retro sound, as if it could have been recorded 40 years ago, yet the modern characters in the songs keep it squarely in 2015.  Favorite tracks include "Dime Store Cowgirl," "This Town," "Good Ol' Boys Club," and the title cut.  

Honorable mentions for releases this year are Aaron Watson's "The Underdog" which debuted at #1 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart, a feat for an indie artist.  Released in February, Watson continues on his mission of delivering solid, honky tonk country.  Don Henley released a fabulous country album in September.  "Cass County" is Henley's fifth solo release, following numerous albums from the Eagles.  Despite being known for his classic rock sound from the Eagles ("Hotel California") and solo ("Boys Of Summer"), Henley's voice is at home with the traditional pedal steel and fiddle found on this album.  Not surprisingly, the collection debuted at #1 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart.  Carrie Underwood released her fifth studio album in October.  Although mostly a pop album, Underwood still manages to hook listeners with her soaring voice and story songs.  My favorite of this bunch is the live Micky & The Motorcars release from July, "Across The Pond:  Live From Germany."  There aren't any new songs but this is a wonderful collection of their songs throughout the years.

Albums make great gifts and with 2015 coming to a close and the holidays upon us, it's a great time to pick up some of these selections.  Here's to 2016!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

"Squelch" Album Review By Jason Boland & The Stragglers

"Squelch" is the aptly named title of Jason Boland & The Stragglers' brand new album.  It's the band's eighth studio production, continuing in the vein of their brand of traditional country music.  This is the highly anticipated follow up to 2013's stellar "Dark & Dirty Mile" and this time around, the subject matter is a little darker and the sound is grittier.

As with 2 other JBS albums, "Squelch" was recorded and mixed directly to tape.  This no frills approach means a warmer, worn-in feel to the album making it sound more like their live shows.  Along with the brilliant lyricism of Jason Boland's (lead vocalist, acoustic & electric guitar) words, The Stragglers are made up of Cody Angel (pedal steel, guitars), Brad Rice (drums, harmony vocals), Grant Tracy (bass guitar), and Nick Worley (fiddle, mandolin).

"Break 19" opens the album and sets the tone for the rest of the tracks.  A hard driving tune about our fast paced world and the backwards way things are ran in this country.  Meanwhile, "The First To Know" is a honky tonk number with a catchy melody full of pedal steel and fiddle.

The first single "Holy Relic Sale" is the most melodic song I've heard all year and is a personal favorite on the album.  It's a tune about people and their lucky charms, centered around a woman with her "lucky blue socks."  Another favorite is "Heartland Bypass," with its road weary drum beat and pedal steel coupled with heavy lyrics, "...Bypassing through the heartland...pumping power out to run the nursery rhyme...mainlining black sand...always paying out the interest on borrowed time..."

The only tune not penned by Boland or band mate Brad Rice (on "Lose Early") is the saddest one.  "Christmas In Huntsville" was written by former Straggler Dana Hazzard and chronicles the last days of a young man who's on death row for a murder he didn't commit.  Though it has a mid tempo beat, the lyrics are so vivid and heart wrenching.

"Do You Love Me Any Less" and "Bienville" are a couple of love ballads, the latter being another favorite.  A road trip song weaving the story of a man who met the love of his life with landmarks along the way.  The couple ends up spending their last dollars gambling and the song is left open ended for a part two on how they got home.

"Squelch" is another masterpiece in the long line of albums The Stragglers have released, politically and socially deeper than any of their previous work.  Anyone searching for traditional country with a side of meaningful lyrics, The Stragglers have you covered.  "Squelch" is undoubtedly one of the best albums of the year and is available now.

Monday, September 28, 2015

"The Turnpike Troubadours" Album Review

The Turnpike Troubadours have just released their highly anticipated self-titled album and expectations have been exceeded.  This is the Oklahoma band's 4th album and brings a new chapter in the progression of their unique sound.  The instrumentation this time around is more aggressive and lead vocalist Evan Felker's delivery is intense.

The Troubadours have been on the Red Dirt scene since 2007 and have quickly risen to stardom in the genre.  The blending of country, bluegrass, and rock make for interesting and distinctive music and is one reason the band has become so popular.  The Turnpike Troubadours consist of RC Edwards (bass, vocals), Ryan Engleman (electric guitar, steel), Evan Felker (lead vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica, banjo), Kyle Nix (fiddle, vocals), and Gabriel Pearson (drums, vocals, percussion).  All of the songs were written or co-written by Felker and Edwards, with the exception of the deranged cover of the Old 97's "Doreen."

The record kicks off with a bang in "The Bird Hunters," a song about old friends and relationships set to Nix's impeccable fiddle playing.  Next up is the rollicking "The Mercury," picking up where "Good Lord Lorrie" left off on the band's previous release "Goodbye Normal Street."  Revisiting the tumultuous ex-relationship of Jimmy and Lorrie, the singer appears to be poised to make his move on Lorrie.

The album's lead off single "Down Here" is currently sitting at #1 on the Texas Music Chart.  A mid-tempo tune about a friend who's a little down and out and has encountered a few obstacles of late.  "...But you tried so bad just to be good...hold your cards and you knock on wood...a little harder than anyone should...but hey that's just your style..."

"Ringing In The Year" is one of the best tracks on the collection and a personal favorite.  Buoyed by a fantastic drum beat and fiddle, the song explores a crumbled relationship tied into the seasons.  It's songs like these where Felker's voice shines the most, the emotion is felt in lyrics like "...Well won't you miss your whiskey in the wintertime, my dear...the way that I've been missing you this fall...and cheap champagne don't dull the pain of ringing in the year...wondering if you think of me at all..."

Another standout is "Long Drive Home" a plaintive, mid tempo ballad which describes the hardships of a traveling musician's love life.  Meanwhile, "Fall Out Of Love" is an achingly sad ballad and delivers yet another stunning vocal performance from Felker.  The emotion runs high asking the question "How do you fall out of do you know when to run..."  The song appears to have the singer asking the question throughout yet it's him who has walked out.

Two songs on the collection are re-releases of songs from the band's first album.  "Bossier City" and "Easton And Main" have been revamped, the latter song being one of my personal TpT favorites.  "Easton" has a slower tempo this time around and has a warmer, worn in feel to it.  The steel is perfect and the fiddle more prominent, making this update a new classic.

The Turnpike Troubadours have delivered another outstanding collection of songs, adding to their already remarkable catalog.  Count this as one of the best albums of the year.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"Faded Gloryville" Album Review

Lindi Ortega's 4th full length album opens with the smoldering, passionate mid tempo "Ashes" and is a taste of what is to follow on the rest of "Faded Gloryville."  The brand new collection of songs from the Canadian songstress picks up where her previous 3 albums left off, a brand of torch roots music with modern themes.  Lindi wrote or co-wrote every song on the album except for one, the Bee Gee's remake "To Love Somebody."  
The title track is a short and bittersweet ode to musicians who aspire to become the superstars they never will be.  It's a sad state of affairs in the music business today, where an artist is only famous if they follow the "rules" and sell their souls for the sake of a dollar.  Lindi laments "There ain't no stars in Faded Gloryville...We've chased our dreams into the ground...If disillusion has some hope to kill...Here nobody wears a crown..."  It's not just a song for artists, but disenchanted dreamers everywhere who are living a life they didn't expect.

"Someday Soon" is every girl's journey in finding the man of her dreams and walking away from the men who don't fit the bill.  The subject has been written about many times but Lindi sings it with such fervor that it sounds refreshing and new in her honest lyrics and delivery.

"Run Down Neighborhood" tells the tale of a couple of big city dwellers who live in a bad part of town.  Despite the despair of the lyrics, Lindi's delivery is that of happiness, as if living life in the 'hood isn't so terrible.

A personal favorite is "I Ain't The Girl," a lovely shuffle with Lindi channeling the thoughts of millions of women everywhere.  The song floats along beautifully behind the clever lyrics, "...You're too clean cut with polished shoes...I like 'em rugged with tattoos...You drive a really fancy car...I like a truck with rusty parts..."

The album closes with the stunning, lush ballad "Half Moon."  Not really about the moon at all, but a man who's "veiled in midnight lace" and is a mystery to the singer.  It's a simple piece and the instruments accompany Lindi's soulful voice perfectly.

"Faded Gloryville" has a different feel to the singer's previous 3 albums, it's as if there's a little more weariness this time around.  The songs feel more sad and introspective and that's okay; life isn't all about parties and pickup trucks.  I also highly recommend Lindi's other albums "Tin Star," "Cigarettes & Truckstops," & "Little Red Boots."  "Faded Gloryville" is available now.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

"Holidays & Wedding Rings" Album Review

Jamie Lin Wilson's new album "Holidays & Wedding Rings" is a fabulous second album from the Americana/indie country artist.  Jamie is known for her previous work with the Gougers and most recently, The Trishas.  On this new album (also check out 2010's EP "Dirty Blonde Hair), Jamie steps into the spotlight as one of the genre's finest vocalists, as well as a songwriter who's work is mature beyond her years.
"Holidays" starts off with the rollicking "Just Like Heartache," a pure Americana tune about knowing a relationship is over yet wanting to hold on to that person.  Meanwhile, "You Left My Chair" is a soaring ballad about a divorce and the only thing remaining among the weeds is the woman's beloved chair.
"She'll Take Tonight" and "Nighttime Blues" are barroom shuffles reminiscent of 80's Country with modern twists.  "Moving Along" flows beautifully telling a story of a person who has risen above past mistakes, "...Flying away above this tiny town with feathered wings and a shiny crown....until it's time to come back down...I'll take just one more look check all the atmosphere...I'm wising up seeing clearer how I missed the little things like holidays and wedding rings..."  The entire song is full of lovely lyrics and is a favorite from this collection.
A highlight on the album is the achingly beautiful duet with Wade Bowen "Just Some Things."  The song is about two people who almost cheat but decide "...There are just some things you can't take back..."  It's a quiet song that builds in intensity, the words are heavy and one can feel the raw emotion in every lyric.

On the flip side of the stunning duet, the delightful banjo-driven "Yours And Mine" rolls along about a happy couple who revel in the simple pleasures in life.  The happiness doesn't last long, however, with "Seven Year Drought" a couple struggles to keep it together.  Meanwhile, "Roses By The Dozen" is a deliciously dark murder ballad.  Though the subject matter is somber, Jamie sings it as if she's apathetic to the man who she once loved.

"Holidays & Wedding Rings" is one of the best albums of the year.  Do yourself a favor and pick up this incredible collection of songs.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

"So This Is Life" Album Review

Courtney Patton's new album "So This Is Life" doesn't begin as most albums do.  Instead of starting with a fast paced song, it begins with a mellow waltz that sets the tone for the rest of the collection.  This is Courtney's highly anticipated 3rd album and includes some of her best songwriting to date.

"Little Black Dress" kicks off the album in fine style and from there, the songs only continue to be the beautiful, heartbreaking stories that will linger long after being heard.  Adding to the plaintive lyrics, Courtney's strong, distinct vocals are wrapped around understated instruments.  Even the cover photo is thought-provoking, just a taste of the 12 gems contained inside.

"War Of Art" is a lovely shuffle written for Courtney's children and the struggles parents go through trying to chase their dreams yet stay grounded at home.  Meanwhile the title track is about the singer's parents and their downward spiral into divorce.  It's a heart-wrenching, punch-in-the-gut look at what many families endure in the face of crumbling relationships.  

"Need For Wanting" is about the typical moves men make while trying to land a woman at the bar.  However, the twist at the end of the night puts a spin on the tune one doesn't expect from the strength of the character throughout the song.  The arrangements are lovely, framing the lyrics perfectly, "...You look like a lesson I learned long ago...and I know more than I care to say..."  If there was a perfect modern country song, this would be it and it's one of my favorites here. 

Another beautiful ballad is "Twelve Days," about the singer's husband (fellow musician Jason Eady) being on the road.  A simple yet stunning love song weaving fiddle around the heartfelt lyrics, "...You should be in Salt Lake and Stanley by you it's just another show and to me...another far off town..."  The entire song is perfection and another favorite.

The closing track "But I Did" is an autobiographical song set to lush acoustics with raw, real yet inspiring lyrics, "...I was born a dreamer dead set on doing...shaking and a-moving far away from here...found freedom in a melody and the groove kept me grounded..."  Perfect words for dreamers, this is another favorite and really touches the soul.

Front to back, "So This Is Life" is a roller coaster of emotions set to gorgeous pedal steel and fiddle.  Courtney Patton is a brilliant songwriter and powerful vocalist who's music needs to be heard beyond the confines of Texas.  Do your ears a favor and pick up a copy of this stellar record.

Buy the album here: or

Monday, March 16, 2015

MyChelle Product Reviews

As a regular user of MyChelle Dermaceuticals, I was excited when they announced the release of 2 new products.  A cleanser and eye cream have been added to their fabulous lineup of skincare products and I was given the opportunity to test and review them.

What I love about MyChelle's products are that they're gluten and casein free (important to those of us with food allergies), as well as cruelty free and natural.  Many products are vegan and everything is made with high quality ingredients that work with the skin.  I've never used a MyChelle product I didn't like. 

The new Refining Sugar Cleanser I was a bit apprehensive about because I have dry skin and have been using an oil cleanser over the winter, as well as MyChelle's Honeydew Unscented Cleanser.  After the first use, I was amazed at how creamy the formula is after the sugar dissolves.  It gently exfoliates, hydrates, and softens all in one use, making it the perfect multi-tasking cleanser.  It removes makeup and is excellent for all skin types.  The scent is fantastic, very sweet but not overpowering and makes me feel like I'm being pampered every time I wash my face.  This is an excellent product I will continue to use and I highly recommend it.

The Remarkable Retinal Eye Cream is the other new product in MyChelle's beauty arsenal and it's a winner.  I'm always a bit hesitant to try products with retinal ingredients because of the potency and increased sensitivity to the sun.  However, this product is very gentle around my eyes and hasn't caused any redness or dryness.  In fact, it's very hydrating and diminishes the little lines beneath my eyes almost immediately.  The scent is a bit weird at first, it's almost minty but not offensive and fades quickly.  This cream is to be used at night because of the retinal.  A fabulous eye cream for the a.m. is MyChelle's Magnolia Fresh Eyes.  I've been using this for quite awhile and am loving the results combined with the Remarkable Retinal.  I'm looking forward to seeing the long term effects of this eye cream.  This is an excellent formulation to use for those who want brighter and more youthful eyes.

Overall, MyChelle's new products have exceeded my expectations.  They never fail to offer quality products that actually do what they claim to on the box.  If you're looking for a new skincare line or just wanting to try a few new products, the Refining Sugar Cleanser and Remarkable Retinal Eye Cream are a great place to start.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Artist Spotlight: The Black Lillies

I became familiar with The Black Lillies just less than a year ago when I saw they were added to the lineup at the 2014 Braun Brothers Reunion in Challis, Idaho.  Prior to seeing them live, I'd only heard one song "Gold And Roses."  That one song and their amazing performance at BBR made me take notice of this fabulous band from Knoxville, Tennessee.
"Runaway Freeway Blues"

The band formed in 2008 and have released 3 albums, 2009's "Whiskey Angel, 2011's "100 Miles Of Wreckage," and "Runaway Freeway Blues" followed in 2013.  They are currently working on a new album to be released this summer and fans can help out by going to  The Black Lillies have a unique sound, best defined as Americana/Indie Roots Rock/Appalachian music with elements of traditional country and even jazz and blues.
"100 Miles Of Wreckage"

The Black Lillies are comprised of lead singer/multi-instrumentalist Cruz Contreras, harmony/lead vocalist Trisha Gene Brady, drummer Bowman Townsend, bass player Robert Richards, and pedal steel/multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Tom Pryor.  Earlier this month, it was announced that Robert and Tom are leaving the band for other endeavors.  With that said, it will be a new beginning in a chapter of The Black Lillies' story that really has just begun.
"Whiskey Angel"

The lyrics and instrumentation of the songs are at the heart of what makes The Black Lillies sound so distinct.  There aren't many bands that cover such a wide variety of topics, from gold mining to trucking to murderous love triangles and beyond.  Cruz's brilliant songwriting takes these themes and brings them to life.  The characters leave an impression long after hearing the melodies.  My favorites include the historical story songs "Gold And Roses" and "Shepherd's Song," as well as "The Fall," "Two Hearts Down," "Same Mistakes," "Midnight," and "All This Living."
Braun Brothers Reunion, Challis, Idaho, 8/9/14
The Black Lillies have been crisscrossing the country, bringing their genre-blending sound to old fans and new.  If they visit your town, be sure to attend a show and prepare to be blown away by this refreshing, remarkable band.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"Long Road To Nowhere" Single Review

Micky & The Motorcars have a brand new single "Long Road To Nowhere" and a spectacular scenic video to accompany the song.  The video is a nice addition to the beautiful, rambling tune, shot in Idaho during the Braun Brothers Reunion in August.
"Long Road To Nowhere" is the second single from MMC's stellar "Hearts From Above" album, released last July (read my full review here  The song takes listeners on a journey from the viewpoint of a road-weary traveler who has lost his love.  The instrumentation weaves its way beautifully through the haunting lyrics, "...It's a long road to nowhere...with a million miles to go...I reach for you...I reach for your love...there's no one that knows me better than you..."  As the song progresses, it's evident that the relationship has unravelled into nothing but the memories that remain.  "...The road it moves in circles...the road it moves in songs...the saddest one's for you..."
The harmonies, the instrumentation, and the lyrics all combine to make this one of the best songs on "Hearts From Above."  Do yourself a favor and pick up this outstanding album.

Monday, February 23, 2015

"Trashy Side" Single Review

Kimberly Dunn's new single "Trashy Side" is a feisty female anthem currently climbing the Texas Music Chart.  The tune is full of spiteful lyrics that bounce along to Kimberly's fine vocals.  I stumbled upon this new song listening to Texas radio and at the time was not familiar with Kimberly's work.  I'm always searching for artists who are new and different on the scene.  Kimberly's music is refreshing in a field dominated by male artists.
The San Antonio, Texas native barrels through the song with fervor, making it clear to a home wrecker that she isn't going to back down without a fight when it comes to stealing her man.  It starts out ominously and builds into an all out fiery war of words, "...You're on display with a cheap price tag and all I see is a target on your back..." and "...Been a long time since I had to fight, but I'm betting that's just like riding a bike...girl you're stepping on these roots I're bringing out my trashy side..."

Not many females make it to the top of the Texas charts these days, but if a song is going to do it, this one has the potential to blow away the male competition with its fierce delivery and bitter lyrics.

You can find "Trashy Side" on Kimberly's full length debut album "Forever On The Run."