Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Turnpike Troubadours "A Long Way From Your Heart" Album Review

"A Long Way From Your Heart" is the Turnpike Troubadours' fifth album and quite possibly their best yet.  The Oklahoma band draws deep into regional subject matter and characters come to life with their brand of Americana.  TpT are comprised of RC Edwards on bass and harmony, Ryan Engleman on electric guitar, Evan Felker on lead vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica, and banjo, Kyle Nix on fiddle and harmony, and Gabriel Pearson on drums, percussion, and harmony.  Hank Early recently joined on accordion, pedal, and dobro, filling out the already rich melodies of the band.

Kicking off the album is the lead single "The Housefire," a song as much about the human spirit as a house fire.  Listeners familiar with Turnpike's music will recognize Lorrie, a character from two other songs, stemming from the imagination of principal songwriter Evan Felker.  It's love at first listen, with Lorrie grabbing the baby and "...We made it safe outside...She never missed a note...Took a breath and cleared her throat...and wrapped him in a Carhartt coat she found out in my ride..."  There's a lot of heartache heard in the character's voice but also a buoyant tone knowing it all works out.  Felker has a way of weaving an entire movie into song, the lyrics are so vivid making the characters come to life.

"The Winding Stair Mountain Blues" is a standout track featuring blazing fiddle and banjo.  The storyline revolves around two childhood friends who drift apart when one falls into trouble.  He appears to be living off the land in the Winding Stair Mountains of southeastern Oklahoma until the law catches up with him.  This is Felker at his best, blasting through the song with fervor, driving the message home.

"Unrung" deals with a friend who's concerned about his friend's choice in women.  It doesn't cover new ground but its lush melody and instruments wrap around the gloom of the relationship.  Meanwhile, "A Tornado Warning" bounces along as if there isn't an impending twister nearby.  It's as much about the girl as it is an actual storm, she's the tornado in his heart.

There's a warm tone that permeates the collection but culminates with the sad yet lovely "Pay No Rent."  A heavy ballad featuring beautiful harmony vocals from Jamie Lin Wilson, this is perhaps the saddest song of the year.  "...Is all this living meant to be or a happy accident..." sums up our short lives on Earth, leaving listeners in a pensive state.

"The Hard Way" is a straight ahead, 80's country mid-tempo romp through the back roads of Oklahoma.  If a perfect song existed for a model of what modern country music should sound like, this would be it.  A drifting cowboy who's "...On the road again off of Highway 10 in a cabin on a rural route...I'm gonna figure out the hard way how fast I can wear my welcome out..."  Everything about this song is sublime, from the opening pedal steel and fiddle to the high flying character tumbling around in Felker's poetic warble.

Another outstanding track is "Pipe Bomb Dream," about a military veteran who hits trouble when he's caught smuggling marijuana into his home state.  Staying in the band's home state, "Oklahoma Stars" switches gears into another pretty ballad featuring Wilson again on harmony vocals.

"Sunday Morning Paper" closes the album with a stark clarity about our musical legends leaving us too soon.  "Sunday morning paper said 'Rock and Roll is surely dead'...something hit me deep down in my soul...Lord I know, it's just Rock and Roll...never one time did I ever dream you wouldn't live forever...bet you never planned on getting old..."  The music world has lost so many iconic artists over the past few years, including Merle Haggard, who's subtly mentioned along with many others.  Music evokes so many images and dreams and is personal on many levels.  When one of our favorites is no longer with us, we feel a loss others may not understand.  That's the true power and beauty of music and is a nice ode to close the album with.

For those who are on the fence about downloading or buying the physical CD (or vinyl), I highly recommend the physical copy.  The curious horse artwork is worth that alone and there's something to be said about the lyrics inserted into the CD.  There's a personal touch one doesn't get from digital.

"A Long Way From Your Heart" is available now.  Do the ears a favor and go buy this fabulous album from one of Americana's best bands.


Sunday, March 5, 2017

"Ruffled Skirts" Album Review

John Schneider's brand new album "Ruffled Skirts" was born from heartache and triumph over Louisiana's historic flooding in 2016.  Having released over a dozen albums, this is the singer's first in over 20 years (not including 2 Christmas works).  Schneider has been out of the musical spotlight, focusing on acting, directing, producing, and opening a production studio in the Bayou state.

"Ruffled Skirts" opens with a sampling of the gospel standard "In The Shelter" before transitioning into the hard driving "The Cajun Navy."  This sets the tone for the remainder of the album, songs full of devastation and hope, and the characters who prevailed.  The Cajun Navy are volunteers who lent a helping hand during the flooding and this honors their time and commitment.

A personal favorite is "Too Much Rain," a heavy ballad marked with Schneider's warm honeyed tenor.  The most powerful line comes on the bridge "...She told me she was going to get in her car and go where it never rains..."  The heartache felt in those lines haunts the rest of the song, leaving the listener wondering if she made it to her destination.

Another standout is "The FEMA Song," a kiss off song dedicated to the government agency was recorded live.  The lyrics add to the sentiment of the raucous crowd, and Schneider's vocals really shine here.

Probably the saddest song listeners will hear this year is "How Do You Stop The Water."  The ballad revolves around a man who's lost everything in the flood, "...Over 60 years of memories that just washed away..." Thoughts of his wife and children who lived in the same house gone, along with all of the cherished belongings.

"Goin' With The Flow," "Five Feet High And Risin'" (a Johnny Cash cover), and "An Act Of God" round out the album's main subject matter, the latter being another outstanding ballad.

"Every Friday Night" is the only tune that doesn't deal with the tragic events of last year's flooding.  It's a fun romp about a boy who grew up on "The Dukes Of Hazzard."  It's a nice diversion from the heaviness of the rest of collection.

"Ruffled Skirts" was recorded in Schneider's living room, part of what was damaged in the floods, and adds to the rawness of the lyrics.  The songs were co-written with Clifton Brown, Scott Innes, and Phil Redrow.  The Cajun Navy band consists of a stellar cast including Carol Bersas, Nelson Blanchard, Randy Carpenter, Bud Carson, Mark DuVelle Doyle, Margaret Fowler, Tammy Watts Hardy, Doug Kershaw, Lauren, Valerie, and Olivia Powell, and Jo-El Sonnier.

"How Do You Stop The Water" and "Every Friday Night" have been released to radio.  The album is available now, go get a copy and treat your ears to real country music.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

"Hotel California" Turns 40

On this day in 1976, the iconic Eagles album "Hotel California" was released.  The followup to the band's previous four successful collections became one of their biggest sellers, over 32 million copies sold worldwide.

Much of the success of HC is centered on the title song & lead cut.  However, almost the entire album is filled with masterpieces, from their signature country rock sound to one that's more edgy, there's a reason why this resonated with so many fans and continues to this day.  In addition to the amazing guitar solos on the title track and other songs, is the core of the band's success, lyrics and stunning vocals.  At the time of HC's recording & release, the members were founders Glenn Frey (vocals, piano, keyboards, harmonica, guitars), Don Henley (vocals, drums, guitar), and Randy Meisner (vocals, bass guitar) as well as Joe Walsh (vocals, lead guitar, keyboards) and Don Felder (lead guitar).  The powerhouse songwriting duo of Frey and Henley dominates the lyrically visual songs, a continuum of their stellar compositions from previous albums.  This collection is very much a concept album like 1973's "Desperado" but HC is a study in California's night life, addiction, fame, relationships, and environmental issues.

"Hotel California" is perhaps one of the most debated songs in history, its subject matter being all over the map depending on the listener.  It opens with one of the most recognizable guitar intros in rock music but it's Henley's haunting voice that steals the show.

"New Kid In Town" is the only song Frey sings lead on here and is a beautiful study in relationships and the fleeting nature of fame.  The song is about a woman who moves on to the next "Johnny come lately," and also mirrors the music business where the next big act is always waiting to take over.  Frey's stunning vocals on the bridge drives the message home.  Written by Frey, Henley, and J.D. Souther, the song took home a Grammy in 1977 for Best Vocal Arrangement, was the first single off the album, and hit number one in February 1977.

Also a single, "Life In The Fast Lane" chronicles a couple who spiral downwards in their drug-fueled, high living lifestyle.  Walsh came up with the guitar intro, Frey and Henley wrote the lyrics around that signature riff.  Dire lyrics and emptiness abound despite the frenetic pace of the arrangement.  It feels as if the couple is driving off the cliff long before they reach it.

"Wasted Time" is a gorgeous, melancholy filled ballad, one of Henley's finest vocal moments on HC.  Another Frey and Henley composition, the lyrics are heavy with emotion, "...So you live from day to day...and you dream about tomorrow...and the hours go by like minutes...and the shadows come to stay...so you take a little something to make them go away..."

Eagles fans know the backstory to "Victim Of Love" but despite the Felder/Henley controversy on who ended up singing lead, Henley owns the song.  It's a classic, in your face snarl about a woman who's disenchanted by every relationship yet knows "how to play it so well."

"Pretty Maids All In A Row" features Joe Walsh on lead vocals and Randy Meisner's fine "Try And Love Again" round out the variety on HC leading up to the stunning finale.

The album closes with the epic, sweeping ballad "The Last Resort."  Relevant at the time of its release and even more so today, the song looks at the destruction humans have inflicted upon the Earth.  Another Frey and Henley penned gem, the song takes listeners on a journey from innocence to greed, urban sprawl, and despair, "...You call some place paradise...kiss it goodbye..."  Always excelling on ballads, Henley's vocals reach every level on this prophetic song.

"Hotel California" won the 1977 Grammy for Record Of The Year, cementing its place in rock and roll history, as well as in the hearts of millions of fans across the globe.  If music lovers are looking for "new" music to buy, start here and buy the physical copy.  The artwork on the cover and the photos inside are as fabulous as the art flowing out of the speakers.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"Sunset Motel" Album Review

Reckless Kelly's 9th studio album "Sunset Motel" bolts out of the gate with the rollicking "How Can You Like Him," just a hint of what's to come on the much-anticipated release.  It's been a long span between this and 2013's lovely "Long Night Moon" and it does not disappoint.

Reckless Kelly is comprised of David Abeyta on lead guitars, Cody Braun on fiddle, mandolin, harmonica, and harmony vocals, Willy Braun on lead/harmony vocals, guitars, and harmonica, Joe Miller on bass, and Jay Nazz on drums.  The collection was recorded at Arlyn Studios in Austin, Texas, and brings a new warmth to RK's sound.  Perhaps it's the change in studios (RK hasn't recorded at Arlyn since their debut) or the depth of the content.  There's a quiet maturity felt in the lyrics (all penned by Willy Braun), the harmonies are perfect, and the instruments are classic clean and crisp RK.

"Radio" opens up with the singer flipping channels, most likely trying to find a station that plays good music but the song itself delves into the dark and disenchanting world known as mainstream radio.  The first line says it all in regards to the sad state of modern country music, "Come all you young lads with your trucker chain fads...and your hair just beginning to grow...Well you got a good look and that's all it took to get you booked on the next big show..."  It has a biting tone and rocking guitar riffs, driving the message home about how "artists" are made.

"Radio" segues into one of many standouts "Buckaroo," a mid-tempo modern day cowboy's lament about losing a love.  Meanwhile, the title track is a lovely yet sad ballad about the trials about addiction.  The motel is a symbol of all things bad and good that we encounter on the road of life.  The foreboding sound of the guitars sets the stage for the eerie lyrics "...Four walls to hold me...locked up inside...where the same thing that kills you is what keeps you alive...no hope for redemption, no safe place to fall...just a paradise waiting to escape from it all..."

Switching gears from the loneliness of "Sunset Motel," "The Champ is a knockout track about a relationship set to a sport and Wild West theme.  "...High noon and we're standing on Main Street...all or nothing and there's no backing out...no second thoughts about a reputation...just clear leather and the hammer comes down..."  The song rolls along to a fabulous mandolin beat and despite the cheery sound, neither party truly comes out as a champ.  This is a true RK classic and is now a new favorite.

Other standouts include "One More One Last Time," a lush, harmonica driven ballad and "Volcano," a climate change rocker.  The latter has a big chorus and some harsh lyrics regarding the state of this very polarizing issue.  "Sad Songs About You" is an honest, raw look at a crumbled relationship and how the singer is going to cope with singing the songs the rest of his life.  "Under Lucky Stars" quietly closes out the collection, a truly romantic song not often heard from the band.

There's something to be said about the exquisite album artwork and enclosed CD booklet.  It includes a map of the USA and a special motel room key that unlocks more phrases and photos across the map.  It has a retro look, making the listener feel as if they're along for a ride back in time; which ties into the lyrics of this fine album.  Reckless Kelly has released another solid set of songs to cap off their 20th year in the business, go buy this album and let your ears enjoy the journey.

"Sunset Motel" was released on September 23 via Thirty Tigers.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Corey Nolen "Following The Song" EP Review

Corey Nolen's new EP Following The Song is a pleasant journey through relationships, the music business, and the trappings of the road.  The six- song collection flows nicely from traditional country into more Americana territory with Nolen possessing a tear in his voice that wraps around every song, filling it with heartbreak and longing.

The album kicks off with "Missing You Tonight," a mid-tempo song driven by prominent fiddle that segues into what's probably the best on the EP, the bittersweet title track.  The singer laments "....Now that the money's all gone, I guess I'm in it for love...'Cause I don't think they'll hear my voice on the radio..."  This gem is exactly what we need to hear on country radio.
"Not Fighting" is an achingly sad duet with Ashley Spurling, where, as the years go by, they question their relationship and they realize they're just going through the motions of everyday life.  "...It ain't the hurting we had...but it's a new kind of sad..."  Spurling's sweet vocals add a heavy dose of poignancy to the ballad.

Closing out the EP is "The Road," a lonely, pedal steel weeper that follows the singer on his way down the road and back to his "broken home."  "Lately waking up it's hard to know what town I'm in....Just moving at the mercy of whatever pays the bills..." ​ The backdrop of the steel makes the song feel even sadder than it is - true country music at its finest.

The Alabama native has released three other albums, including a live EP which was released earlier this year.  Following The Song will be available August 14.

Thank you to The Daily Country for allowing me to review this EP.  www.thedailycountry.com

Friday, January 22, 2016

In Memoriam Of Glenn Frey: A Fan Tribute

Shock.  Disbelief.  Sadness.  Denial.  All emotions felt when I heard the news that Eagles founder Glenn Frey had passed away at the age of 67 on Monday, January 18, 2016.  As a lifetime Eagles fan, this loss of a legend has been a hard fact to swallow.  Frey had recently finished up a tour with the band in July.  How can this happen to someone so young?

Courtesy guitarinstructor.com
Crushing sadness aside, the Eagles have been a huge influence on my musical tastes.  Their music, along with dozens of other bands in the same vein, have been riding shotgun with me as long as I can remember.  Frey's warm, smooth tenor was always right for every song, belting out country rockers and lovely ballads, he was always able to make fans feel something.  Not just a fine singer, Frey also was an incredible songwriter.  Written with band mate Don Henley, "Desperado" is the most epic, sweeping ballad of our time.  Frey also helped pen the biggest hit of the Eagles' career "Hotel California," among many other favorites, including "Lyin' Eyes," "Take It Easy," and " Tequila Sunrise."

Along with the success of the Eagles, after the split in 1980, Frey continued on with a remarkable solo career.  Tunes such as "The Heat Is On" and "You Belong To The City" were big hits in the 80's.  Frey also starred in a few films and TV shows, most notably "Miami Vice" and in his own show "South Of Sunset."  The Eagles reunited in 1994, embarking on a tour, then again dropping out of the spotlight until the release of a double album "Long Road Out Of Eden" in 2007.  Frey released his last solo album in 2012.

Courtesy glennfreyafterhours.com
It was the songs Frey created and sang with the Eagles that left the biggest impression .  The country rock sound they forged has left an indelible mark on myself, along with millions of other fans around the world.  Without a doubt, there was more music left to be made.  Glenn Frey was an icon for the ages and will be greatly missed.  A legend of a generation, gone too soon.

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!