Wednesday, December 3, 2008

KayLyne's 2008 music year in review

As I was compiling my list of 2008 releases to include in my year-end wrap up, I realized that this was a darn good year for music. The list never seemed to end. I’d look through my music collection and keep finding more new releases that I had checked out. So, let’s get started on the list.

KayLyne’s Top 10 albums of 2008:

1. Lucinda Williams - Little Honey (10/14/08): You just can’t get any better than Lucinda’s latest release. It’s much more happy/upbeat than her previous album, West, which followed the loss of her mother. The duet with Elvis Costello, “Jailhouse tears”, is great. She’s also got appearances from Matthew Sweet, Susanna Hoffs, Jim Lauderdale, Tim Easton and Charlie Louvin on this album, which makes for some great harmonies. The album is full of highlights, including ”Circles & X’s”, “Little Rock Star”, and ”If wishes were horses” to name a few.

2. Carrie Hassler & Hard Rain - CHHR2: (7/29/08): The new generation of bluegrass is truly alive and well, as evidenced by the great talents of Rhonda Vincent, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Dan Tyminski, Cherryholmes, the Infamous Stringdusters, The Greencards, and add Carrie Hassler and the wonderful musicians known as Hard Rain to that list. CHHR2 is their second album. Their debut album back in 2006 was highly praised, and they still haven’t disappointed with their sophomore effort. There are two incredible songs that you need to hear from this album. First, “I don’t want to wake up” – a first-person narrative about a cancer diagnosis. Right from the start, the lyrics to this song hit me full force: “Doctor says I’ve got a chance to make it. It’ll be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never been the kind scared of dying, but the burden on my shoulders weighs a ton. You’ve been wrapped up in your work until we’ve shattered. Faithless nights have ripped us both in two. I need to know you’ll be here while I’m climbing. If not, there’s nothing left I wanna do. (And the chorus:) “I don’t want to fight for life without you. There’d be no reason left worth fighting for. If I can’t wake up knowing that you’ll be here, then I just don’t want to wake up anymore.“ The second song from this album that you need to hear is “Stranger in his mind.” - a ballad about living with a spouse who has Alzheimer’s. Just two of the highlights from this wonderful album. A few of the others include full-out bluegrass toe-tappers, mixed along with some great slower songs.

3. Sheryl Crow - Detours (2/5/08): a stark contrast to her previous release, Wildflower, which was more mellow and introspective with lush arrangements. Detours is more rough around the edges with lyrics of social issues of today’s messed up world. The record kind of evolves from the sparse, social diatribe first half to a more hopeful outlook message in the second half. Then, as usual, Sheryl has those damn songs that get stuck in your head (Out of our heads, Love is free, Diamond Ring). You know the ones – they pop into your mind out of the blue and you keep singing them over and over, even when you don’t have them playing on your cd/mp3 player. As great as this album is, it still can’t top Sheryl’s The Globe Sessions or Self-titled albums, IMO.

4. Patty Loveless - Sleepless Nights (9/9/08): I absolutely LOVE Patty Loveless, and I would probably consider her my favorite female artist of today. So why, you ask, is this album not #1 on my year-end list? The only reason is that it’s comprised of cover songs. That being said, it is an EXCELLENT selection of songs for Patty to cover. Lots of country greats: He thinks I still care; There stands the glass; I forgot more than you’ll ever know; Please help me I’m falling; Cold cold heart, etc. It’s great that Patty can bring new recognition of these songs to a younger generation that may not have heard them previously. Patty’s voice is as strong as ever in this compilation. For those that don’t know Patty’s music, check out her classic album, Mountain Soul. It’s one of the best you’ll ever hear. I rank her on top – along with Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow, and Vince Gill – as the best harmony voices ever.

5. Uh Huh Her - Common Reaction (8/19/08): Okay, we’re doing a total 180 degree turn from the previous album selections. We’re kicking things up now with some Techno/ Electronica/ Pop/ Rock (it’s hard to describe) from the duo of Uh Huh Her – comprised of Leisha Hailey (previously of The Murmurs, currently on the tv show, The L Word - and she even did a guest star as a werewolf on an episode of CSI) and Camilla Grey. It’s Cam’s voice that you hear as the main vocal. Leisha is the harmony. Their vocals blend very well. Whereas their first self-titled EP was raw and sparsely produced, Common Reaction was pleasantly different in nature with a much smoother sound. The songs will have you bobbing your head and shaking your booty without even being aware of it. Yes, I’ll admit that I probably wouldn’t enjoy this album if it weren’t for Leisha singing/playing. I do prefer Leisha’s previous duo The Murmurs (with Heather Grody) a bit better than Uh Huh Her, only because it’s not as techo/electronica, and is more geared to my usual taste. However, the album as a whole is a pretty cohesive unit, and worth a listen.

6. Justin Townes Earle - the good life: In a word – WOW!! First off - Let’s get the musical pedigree thing out of the way right away: yes, he’s the son of Steve Earle and he’s named after the legendary Townes Van Zandt. His current step-mother is Allison Moorer. Now, let’s get down to business, talking about one of the great throw-backs to good old raw country/Americana music. “the good life” album as a whole is such a breath of fresh air. Raw, sparse instrumentation, combined with a strong voice. It’s a winner in my book.

7. Joey + Rory - the life of a song I very rarely watch any of that reality tv crap that seems to be everywhere these days. The husband & wife duo of Joey Martin & Rory Feek were on CMT’s “Can you duet” show (which I never watched), and finished in 3rd place. This is one time where a reality show FINALLY gave recognition and deserving limelight to two excellent singers whom, when singing together, are even more wonderful with their harmonies. It also brings the spotlight to their traditional country sounds – something you don’t hear much these days. Their “sweet Emmylou” tribute to Emmylou Harris brought even more of a smile to my face. This duo reminds me very much of another husband & wife duo, The Wrights (Adam & Shannon). For those looking for good, traditional country, this is one album you have to check out. On a side note: I tracked down Joey’s solo album that she released a few years ago. I can’t believe I missed that when it came out. The same kind of music, the only thing different is that it doesn’t have the male harmonies on it.

8. Lisa Brokop - Beautiful Tragedy (8/19/08): as I mentioned in my review when the album first came out, this lady could sing the phone book and I’d be enthralled. I just absolutely LOVE her voice. It’s very unique. Therefore, you’re probably wondering why this is only #8 on my top-10 list. On a normal year, this would make the very top. However, 2008 was packed with incredible albums that this one just can’t top. Beautiful Tragedy does have a few flaws and a few songs can be considered uninspiring. If there’s only one song you take time to listen to from this album, it should be On the radio. It’s just a great song – lyrics & melody. Band in the window is a song Pam Tillis had on her last album. I’m still not sure yet which version I prefer. They’re both great. November Trees brings a little upbeat flavor in a subtle way.

9. Dolly Parton - Backwoods Barbie (2/26/08): After all these years, this lady still never disappoints. After over 40 years in the music business, Dolly keeps reinventing herself to the newer generations. The album debuted at #17 on the Billboard 200 albums chart – her highest debut ever. I’m not very fond of the covers - Drives me crazy, and Tracks of my tears, but love Better get to livin’, Cologne, Shinola, I will forever hate roses, Jesus and Gravity, The Lonesomes, and the title track. She’s sure come a long way from Porter Wagoner’s ‘girl singer’.

10. Joan Osborne - Little Wild One (9/9/08) : I consider this one an improvement from her last album, Breakfast in bed, which was comprised of cover songs. Little Wild One brings back the feel of the ‘good old days’ of some of her best music – like the Relish album. It’s only appropriate, since she’s got her Relish production team back with her for this one. Cathedrals is the highlight for me on this album. It has a feel of crescendo and working towards something big that’s about to come. I’ve heard a few other versions of this song, but Joan’s tops them all. It almost makes you feel that you’re in a Cathedral. Hallelujah in the city comes in a close second on this album. The rest of the songs aren’t too far behind, making it a pretty good overall album, and definitely one to check out.

- - - - - - -

I bet you’re not surprised that 9 of the albums on my top 10 are by female artists! (Yes, Joey sings the lead vocals for Joey + Rory, so I consider that a ‘female artist’ album!) LOL Well don’t fret; there are a number of guys on the rest of the list! So, let’s continue:

- - - - - - -

The rest of the 2008 albums I’ve checked out include (by release date):

1/8/08 -
Rhonda Vincent - Good thing going: Quite the apropos title. Rhonda & the Rage have a good thing going with their mix of contemporary bluegrass and country sounds. It’s a great way to kick off the new year of album releases. Along with the kick-up-your-heels, toe-tapping songs (a few reminiscent of the great duo Flatt & Scruggs), the album allows you to catch your breath with the hymn-like rendition of “the water is wide” that includes Keith Urban on guest vocals.

1/15/08 -
Anne Murray - Duets: friends and legends: - There’s only one song you need to hear from this album in order to call it a great album: Anne’s duet with Amy Ray & Emily Saliers (as The Indigo Girls) on the ‘updated’ version of Anne’s classic A little good news. If there was ever a song that could continue to be updated & current, this is it. The changes include mention of Diane Sawyer instead of Bryant Gumbel, and “the hills of Gaza” instead “the streets of Ireland”. Amy & Emily’s harmonies, as always, just bring a whole new dimension to the song. The enjoyment doesn’t stop there. There are great duets with k.d. lang (“a love song”), Olivia Newton-John (“cotton Jenny”), Emmylou Harris (“another pot o’ tea”), Martina McBride (“danny’s song”), Nelly Furtado (“daydream believer”), Shelby Lynne (“you won’t see me”), Amy Grant (“could I have this dance”), Carole King (“time don’t run out on me”), and more – including Anne’s daughter, Dawn Langstroth (“nobody loves me like you do”). So, if you’re a fan of songs with great harmonies, like I am, this is a good pick.

Catherine Britt - little wildflower: After the first single “what I did last night” arrived at the radio station, I was eager to hear the rest of the album. “how am I gonna get my life together, as long as it’s gettin’ it ain’t getting’ any better. I don’t know where to start, I’m falling so far behind. Mama says I’ve gotta start acting like a lady. Daddy’s just worried ‘bout his baby. How am I supposed to straighten up and fly right, when I don’t even remember what I did last night.” Her voice sounds quite like Heidi Newfield – especially on this song. Yes, she’s a bit mainstream country, yet I could actually hear fiddles, acoustic guitar, and a few bits of good old country sounds – at times. The rest of the album has a few good moments, like “if only he were you”, “dirt cheap”, and “bruised” – where she really lets loose with the vocals.

1/22/08 -
Chuck Wicks - Starting Now: The first single, “Stealing Cinderella” was a big hit on the country charts. That can usually be a problem for an artist if there’s nothing as equally strong on the album to back it up with. (think: Jason Michael Carroll with “Alyssa Lies”) However, it seems that Chuck has enough to follow it up – upbeat songs like “all I ever wanted”, “good time coming”, and another medium-tempo one, and probably my favorite from the album, “man of the house”. It’s a song about a 10-year old taking over the ‘man of the house’ role when his father’s gone. The only thing that bothers me about Chuck is that his voice sounds just like every other mainstream country male artist. There’s nothing to distinguish his voice from the others.

1/29/08 -
The Wrights - self-titled: The downside with this album? It’s only an EP; Just 8 songs from this marvelous husband & wife duo and their great harmonies. If you ever wanted good country music with great harmonies, this is the duo to listen to. Adam is the nephew of Alan Jackson, and you can tell that good music runs in the family. The EP starts out strong with “rewind”, highlighted by the classic steel guitar sounds that made the good old country music great. Not too crazy about “you’re the kind of trouble”, Probably because I prefer the version Patty Loveless did with Solomon Burke.

Shelby Lynne - Just a little lovin’: This album is Shelby’s tribute to Dusty Springfield, make up of remakes of Dusty classics, plus one Shelby original, “pretend”. The good part about this album is that Shelby’s voice is powerful enough to bring the songs to life. That being said, I’d like to see Shelby put out something original again. Her style was all over the place right from the start of her career, beginning with the good country of “sunrise” and “tough all over” (still my favorite Shelby albums), then a little swing, then the wonderfully raw “I am Shelby Lynne” produced by Bill Botrell. That was followed by a few lesser efforts. She needs to come out with something breathtaking again. This one just wasn’t it.

2/5/08 -
k.d. lang - watershed: well, it’s not “absolute torch & twang”, but it IS k.d. lang. (hey, that rhymed! LOL) The first k.d. album I remember hearing was “angel with a lariat”. I figured that anyone who could do justice to a Patsy Cline song (“three cigarettes in an ashtray”) was great, in my book! Then she got the cold shoulder from the country music world, and I’ll be darned if she didn’t put a boot in their ass and come back with “ingenue” and perked my ears with “constant craving”. This new album, however being highly praised, didn’t really catch my ear with any standout song. Don’t get me wrong, the songs that comprise this album are very good as a whole set. But, I usually find at least one song that I get stuck in my head. That doesn’t happen here.

Lenny Kravitz - It is time for a love revolution: even though this album came out early in the year, I didn’t actually find it until about a month ago. As with some of the more rock artists/groups, my listening to their music is usually in limited quantities. I was hoping to discover another song like “again” – a song from his “greatest hits” album that I actually enjoyed listening to on a regular basis. I think “good morning”, “I’ll be waiting”, “a long and sad goodbye”, and “I want to go home” are close to that mark.

2/19/08 - :
Allison Moorer - Mockingbird: like her sister, Shelby Lynne, Allison also released an album of cover songs. While she does nice covers of the songs, they really don’t bring out her fabulous voice. Songs like “both sides now”, “orphan train”, “where is my love”, “go leave”, and “I want a little sugar in my bowl” seem light & airy despite being slow and heartfelt. A few songs, such as “I’m looking for blue eyes” and “dancing barefoot” and “she knows where she goes”, are better suited to her voice. Even her version of “ring of fire”, while quite original in arrangement, still falls short of her great vocal talents.

Chris Cagle - My life’s been a country song: Another male mainstream country artists whose songs sound the same as everyone else. “What kinda gone” and “no love songs” give the album a decent start. Then is a nice little change up with “I don’t wanna live”. “Never ever gone” and “if it wasn’t one thing” sound the same. Maybe it’s the overproduction with loud guitars and the same beats over & over, but this album just seems to be lacking in the creativity department.

2/26/08 -
Missy Higgins - On a clear night: I hadn’t heard of Missy before taking a listen to this new album. On first listen, she sounded very familiar, like someone I listen to a lot, but I still can’t figure out whom it is she sounds like. That’s probably a good thing. There’s a nice blend in music between the more piano-driven songs and the guitar-driven songs. They complement her voice well.

3/4/08 -
Alan Jackson - Good Time: I’ve never been much of a big Alan Jackson fan. However, he did redeem himself in my books when he had Patty Loveless provide harmony vocals for the fabulous song, “Monday morning church” a few years ago. The first single from this album, “small town southern man” was pretty decent. The one thing that Alan has been able to do quite successfully throughout his career is mix the slower songs in with the more upbeat ones to make complete albums. It usually seems to be the slower songs that I enjoy from Alan the most – and it started with “wanted”, one of his first hits nearly two decades ago. “I wish I could back up” is one of those great slower songs from this album, and it also includes the wonderful sounds of a mandolin (which adds points in my book!). “Right where I want you” is another of those. “I still like bologna” harkens back to the days of good old country songs with funny titles. “Never loved before” is an upbeat duet with Martina McBride, and here we’ve even got a little harmonica action!

Ashton Shepherd - Sounds so good: “taking off this pain” was the first single released to me at the radio station. I enjoyed the small drawl Ashton has in her voice. The one thing I noticed while listening to the rest of the album is that it doesn’t have the dramatically over-produced sounds that you hear so frequently with other current female mainstream country artists like Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler or Taylor Swift. Thank God! With Ashton’s album, I can actually hear the individual instruments, including steel guitar, mandolin, banjo & fiddle. (can you see me smiling?) I would prefer even a bit less production, but it’s still a huge improvement from the aforementioned other female artists. Anyway, if you’re tired of Carrie, Taylor or Kellie’s pop music, and want something a little closer to country, check out Ashton’s album.

Meg Hutchinson - Come up full: As with Missy Higgins, Meg was someone I hadn’t heard of previously. I’m actually still unsure about this album as a whole. While I enjoy Meg’s great storytelling & lyrics, I’m not overly fond of some of the songs themselves. That became prevalent through the first three songs, “ready”, “home” and “whole bird”. I’m not sure if it’s the melodies of the songs that don’t sit well with me, or if it’s just her voice. After those three ‘duds’ to start the album, I did enjoy the next few – beginning with “a good day to die”, then “America (enough)”, and “seeing stars”. “Song for Jeffrey Lucey” was quite powerful with its lyrics. It’s based on the real story of Lance Corporal Jeffrey Lucey, who returned from Iraq suffering from severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This song makes the album a keeper.

Carlene Carter - Stronger: It’s quite possible that I was expecting too much from Carlene’s latest release – her first studio album in 13 years. However, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy the album as well as just hearing Carlene’s voice again on some new material. Put it in perspective: in a matter of 8 months, Carlene lost her mother (June Carter Cash), her step-father (Johnny Cash), her sister (Rosey), and her longtime companion (Howie Epstein). Let’s start at the end first. The final cut of this album is the title cut, and it’s a heartbreaking tribute to her sister, Rosey. “Sweet baby sister, held the world up on her shoulders. She had a spirit like a twister. This life could not hold her. Always one who runs so fast down a track heading nowhere. She was cool until the train crashed, and she died trying to get there. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” Other highlights here include: “to change your heart”, and “break my little heart in two”. While “the bitter end”, “I’m so cool”, and “bring love” remind me of Carlene’s early days in the music business when she had the more rockabilly type songs like “I fell in love”, “come on back” and “every little thing”.

Kathleen Edwards - asking for flowers: “every pill I took in vain, Every meal for you I made, every bill I went & paid, every card I signed my name, every time I poured my heart out, Every threat you made to move out, every cruel word you let just slip out… Asking for flowers is like asking you to be nice.” Lyrics from the title track of Kathleen Edwards’ latest album get straight to the point, and that’s what I like about this album. The lyrics are straight forward and not hidden in some metaphorical meaning – like on “I make the dough, you get the glory.” That’s as straight forward as you get. The great part of this album is the instrumentation on the songs. It’s not hard to see why, with great musicians like Benmont Tench (keyboards) and Greg Leisz (pedal steel) lending their wonderful talents to the album.

Chatham County Line - IV : Who, you ask? Well, they’re a quartet featuring music with great harmonies, banjo, fiddle, steel guitar, and yet offer a blend of music somewhere between pop, bluegrass, and Americana. Birmingham Jail was the first song I’d listened to and it hooked me from the first line. This was the first of their albums that I’d heard, but as the title of the album would suggest, this is their fourth album release.

3/17/08 -
Bryan Adams - 11: To some, Bryan Adams would be considered a guilty pleasure. For me, his music is just a pleasure, and I don’t feel guilty about listening to it. “Please forgive me”, and “(everything I do) I do it for you” would probably make some of my ‘best of’ lists. I just enjoy his voice and his type of music. With this latest album, I don’t really hear anything extra special, but it’s just more of the same good pop/rock music that he’s done throughout his career.

3/25/08 -
Counting Crows - Saturday nights and Sunday mornings: Yes, I’ll admit. I’m not a real big fan of CC. There are a few songs that I enjoyed from them previously – like their “American girls” duet with Sheryl Crow. I only got a bit more interested in them when Sheryl’s former drummer, Jim Bogios, switched from one Crow (Sheryl) to a flock of Crows (CC). “Los Angeles” is a keeper, “Sundays”, “insignificant”, “on almost any Sunday morning” caught my ear with the harmonica sounds; “when I dream of Michelangelo” includes a soft banjo, there are also mandolin, steel guitar and dobro sounds in this album, which makes my listening worthwhile.

4/1/08 -
Kathy Mattea - Coal: Talk about throwbacks! Kathy goes back to her roots with this, in much the same way that Patty Loveless did with ‘mountain soul’ back in 2001. While Patty’s was more bluegrass-oriented, Kathy’s new album is more in the crossroads of country-meets-folk-meets-bluegrass-meets-great instrumentation. The two albums do have one commonality: “you’ll never leave Harlan alive”. Kathy’s version is a bit faster and not quite as sparse as Patty’s. I prefer Patty’s version. Another cover song that Kathy has on this album, “dark as a dungeon”, kind of surprised me. I will always associate this song with Johnny Cash’s extraordinary live “at Folsom Prison” album. Kathy’s vocals are very strong on the song, and makes a nice addition to the album. “Black lung” is sung a capella, and shows off Kathy’s strong vocal. Overall, it’s an album full of mainly depressing songs, but Kathy makes them shine bright.

George Strait - Troubador: As with Alan Jackson, George Strait is also a country artist that keeps me as just a moderate fan. On one hand, I like the fact that he stays true to country music. On the other hand, much of his music sounds quite the same. And again, as with Alan, George keeps me in his good graces by adding vocals from Patty Loveless. This time it’s as a small tribute to the ‘man in black’ on “House of Cash” (‘no one sleeps in Cash’s bed, ‘cept the Man in Black and the woman he wed). So, it’s no surprise that’s my favorite song from the album. The first single, “I saw God today” was an instant hit on the country charts, and the winner of numerous awards. “Brothers of the highway”, “river of love”, are more upbeat songs. I’m sorry, but IMO George just never seems to work well with anything upbeat. He works much better with the slower songs, or even something with a beat like “make her fall in love with me song”, and the swinging duet with Dean Dillon, “west texas town”.

R.E.M. - Accelerate: I’m not a big R.E.M. fan – usually only listening to “losing my religion” and “everybody hurts”, and not much else – so I was a bit hesitant to actually listen to this album all the way through. And was I ever glad that I ignored the urge to quit after the first three songs, “living well is the best revenge”, “man-sized wreath”, and “supernatural superserious”, as they didn’t catch my ear. The songs to follow – “hollow man”, “houston”, “accelerate”, “until the day is done”, “Mr Richards”, and “sing for the submarine”, had me listening intently and enjoying the great vocals. It made me think of Harry Chapin or Gordon Lightfoot. Unfortunately, the album had to end with “horse to water” and “I’m gonna DJ”, two songs that were more upbeat, and I didn’t care for. So, for me, this was kind of a ‘sandwich’ album – crusty whole wheat bread on the front & back, and sweet fruit jelly in the middle.

4/8/08 -
James Otto - Sunset man: I was very hesitant to listen to this album, knowing it was produced by John Rich (Big & Rich). Most of the albums he’s produced end up in my ‘why do I torture myself like this’ pile. With this album, I was surprised to actually enjoy a few songs. “these are the good old days”, “you don’t act like my woman”, and “when a woman’s not watching” are easily the best tracks here. The rest, while decent songs, just seem a bit ‘blah’. As with most John Rich-produced music, it’s too mainstream for my taste.

Hayes Carll - Trouble in mind: Now, this is more like it. Let’s get ourselves out of the mainstream and to some ‘good’ music again. “It’s a shame” was the first single sent to radio. Right away, I was smiling at the fact that I could actually hear all of the instruments. None of that annoying over-production with this guy. His music kind of reminds me of Rodney Crowell back in his early days, and even a bit of Lyle Lovett. And Carey Kotsionis’ background vocals the music even better. “Beaumont”, “don’t let me fall”, “knocking over whiskeys” and “I don’t wanna grow up” make the album a keeper. There are some honky-tonker songs too, like “a lover like you”. I saw someone refer to this as ‘intelligent country’. I think that sums it up quite well.

4/21/08 -
Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson - Rattlin’ Bones: I’d classify Kasey & Shane as the Aussie version of Kelly Willis & Bruce Robison: a husband & wife teaming up to play & sing great down-home music. Kasey caught my ear a number of years ago with her solo album, “the captain”. I will admit that this album is even better. Shane’s vocals help complement Kasey’s twang so it’s not quite as pronounced. Making it all come together is the great sparse instrumentation – banjo, fiddle, acoustic guitar, steel guitar, and soft drums that just give a little enhancement. It makes you feel like you’re sitting around a campfire, just enjoying the way good music is done.

Bonnie Bramlett - Beautiful: Bonnie was another artist I hadn’t heard of previously. As I was just reading some background info on Bonnie, I find out that she was on a couple seasons of Roseanne as one of Roseanne’s co-workers. I didn’t really watch the show very often, just occasionally as I was channel surfing. I do remember her on the show. As for the music, it’s not really the type of music I usually listen to – slow jazz/blues – but it was a nice change of pace and pleasurable to hear. Her bare smoky-type voice is nice. The songs themselves are nothing really special, but “some of my best friends” stands out as a highlight for me.

James McMurtry - Just us kids: I had heard lots of good things about James and seen a lot of raves over this latest album, so I had to check it out. I didn’t really hear anything that was worthy of a raised eyebrow and a heap of praise, other than the music is just different from anything else. That in itself makes this an album that I’d encourage you to check out. “God bless America (Pat McDonald must die)” and “Cheney’s toy” do have eyebrow raising titles and political lyrics. “brief intermission” is a nice little instrumental in the middle of it all. “fireline road”, “ruins of the realm” and “hurricane party” would be my picks for best on the album. I guess the hype was that this guy doesn’t pull any punches and lets it all out.

Shelley Short - water for the day: another artist whose music was new to me. Shelley has a bit of a twangy voice, that reminds me of Stacey Earle or Kelly Willis. The first thing I noticed about the music is that it’s the way I like it – sparse instrumentation (but very creatively done), and not much production. Yet, it’s her voice that brings a fullness to the music. “godamn thing” was kind of cool with the multi-voice humming segment. That was quite original in the way it was brought to the forefront. The one thing I really enjoyed is that all of the songs sounded different from each other.

Madonna - Hard Candy: Well, it’s Madonna. Now, I’m not a big fan of Madonna’s dance-type music, but there will be the occasional Madonna song that gets stuck in my head (“like a virgin”, “Material girl”, “ray of light”, etc). My overall favorite being a slow song, “this used to be my playground” – which was used in the movie A league of their own. I was surprisingly intrigued by “4 minutes” with Justin Timberlake & Timbaland. “miles away” is actually pretty good as it seems that her vocals are more prominent and not hidden behind the music and the beat. As I continue through the album, it’s clear that most of the songs are starting to sound the same – one dance beat after another. I guess that’s what I kind of expected. As I said to begin with – it IS Madonna, after all.

5/6/08 -
Jakob Dylan - Seeing things: Jakob has Rick Rubin at the helm on this project. The one thing I’ve noticed is that Jakob is quite limited with his voice, so as a solo artist, he’s had to rely on his lyrics as his main crutch. As part of the Wallflowers, he had more vocal & instrumental support to overcome his vocal weaknesses. So, in listening to this album, the main focus needs to be on the songs and lyrics themselves, not the vocals. In that regard, this album is very good. If you don’t listen closely, you wouldn’t realize that “war is kind” is a soft protest song. “evil is alive & well”, “all day and all night”, and “everybody pays as they go” make for a good listen.

5/11/08 -
Snoop Dogg - Ego trippin’: Okay, I know y’all are thinking “Snoop Dogg?!” Yeah, definitely NOT my usual listening music, and I’m probably not going to review this full album, but you know, any guy who’s man enough to be a guest star on an episode of The L Word deserves a mention. But that’s not the only ‘gold star’ for Snoop in my book. The only reason I even thought about listening to this album is “my medicine” – a song that Snoop dedicated to his “main man, Johnny Cash. A real American gangster.” It doesn’t matter that the ‘medicine’ he’s talking about is drugs. It’s a cool song. Yes, I did listen to the rest of the album as well. I do like the way that Snoop keeps everything sounding different. “why did you leave me”, “waste of time”, “one chance”, and “can’t say goodbye” are all worth a listen.

The Old 97s - Blame it on gravity: this seems to be the year where I checked out a lot of music that normally wouldn’t be on my music list. The Old 97s would fit that category as well. This is another one that I had heard lots of great reviews on, so had to check out. It’s actually nice to hear a different type of Alt-Country sound. Even though they’ve been around for about 15 years, this is the first listen I’ve had. It’s kind of a cross between rock, punk, pop, and country. Very hard to define. That’s probably why I enjoy the sound, because it’s different. Unique.

Duffy - Rockferry: I’m starting to sound like a broken record. Here’s another artist whose music is new to my ears, but yet I had heard lots of praise and good reviews. However, I discovered that it’s just not to my taste. Her voice can be a bit annoying at times, but yet she even kind of sounds like Skeeter Davis on “end of the world”. Some of the songs do have a bit of a Motown feel to them, like they could have been part of the 50’s & 60’s sounds. That’s probably the reason for some of the good reviews I’d seen.

5/16/08 -
Slow Down Tallahassee - the beautiful light: I actually discovered this one while searching online. No, they’re not from Tallahassee, they’re from the UK. SDT’s sound is kind of indie-pop, I guess – kind of a mix between The Murmurs, Uh Huh Her, Tegan & Sara, and even Madonna at times. With all of the peppy, upbeat tunes on the album, it’s refreshing to come across the slower “the prettiest tree”. It really shows off their nice harmonies.

5/27/08 -
Eliza Gilkyson - Beautiful world: Summed up in two words - beautiful music. “the party’s over, we had a blast. We brought in the lawyers to cover our ass. Left a note for the children to clean up the mess. The party’s over. It was a big success.” I could play that song - ‘the party’s over’ - on repeat for days on end. A great beat, interesting lyrics with meanings hidden in metaphors. And how about “dream lover” - “It’s a man’s world that we’re living in, and I don’t want to talk about it.” One thing that kind of bugged me throughout this album was that Eliza’s vocals seemed to be over-powered by the music at times. But there’s great instrumentation throughout this album, combining with the strong lyrics, to make it one you should check out.

Usher - Here I stand: Here’s another one that anyone who knew my music tastes would say, “huh?” Yes, definitely not in the music genres I usually listen to. However, Usher is actually an artist that I am able to stand listening to in limited quantities. After to long, the songs all start sounding the same. “his mistakes” and “moving mountains” would be the two songs I listen to from this album.

John Hiatt - same old man: Yes, he’s the same old man with the same great music. His conversational-style lyrics on the opener, “old days”, make for a refreshing change from everyone else these days. At times I think his voice has become even more rough & gravelly. His daughter, Lilly, also does harmony vocals on a couple songs. He’s at his usual greatness on “hurt my baby”, “two hearts”, and the title track. Keep on rollin’ old man!!

6/3/08 -
Aimee Mann - @#%&*! Smilers: I’m guessing most people’s reaction to the title was ‘what the @#%&*! is that all about’? Hey, it’s Aimee! “you got a lot of money but you can’t afford the freeway” is the oft-used refrain on ‘freeway’, which kind of turns into a synth-infused anthem. “I thought my life would be different somehow. I thought my life would be better by now.” is the insightful refrain on “thirty one today”. “phoenix”, “it’s over”, “Looking for nothing”… actually, there’s not a bad track on the album. Classic Aimee Mann – the great lyrics, the catchy music, @#%&*! I can’t help but smile!! LOL

Jewel - Perfectly Clear: Much ado was made that Jewel was coming out with a new “country” album. Considering what many call ‘country’ these days, I knew that Jewel basically didn’t need to change anything to be considered ‘country’. She’s always been right there on the fringe of the genre since she started making music. So, ‘perfectly clear’ isn’t much of a change from what you’re used to hearing from her. There’s a bit more pronounced fiddle and steel guitar sounds, which helps to enhance her fragile vocals. This is another album that, on a normal year of music releases, could have easily been on my top-10 list. “anyone but you”, “I do”, “love is a garden”, “stronger woman”, “thump thump”… all highlights on a very worthwhile album.

6/10/08 -
Emmylou Harris - All I intended to be: Strangely enough, on the first few listens of this album, I wasn’t overly impressed with Emmy’s latest effort. However, as I’ve come to listen to it through the past few months, I’ve realized that this is a nice complete package. While she does a nice job on “all that you have is your soul”, it still can’t beat Tracy Chapman’s version. There are nice harmonies on “kern river”, but it still doesn’t beat out Merle Haggard’s classic that includes Janie Fricke on harmony vocals. If you want the epitome of an Emmylou song, take a listen to “how she could sing the Wildwood Flower”. It’s a sweet story of Sara Carter (of the Original Carter Family) and the man she secretly loved but was kept apart from, eventually coming together and staying ‘til the end. Emmy’s vocals bring such a sweetness to the story. Also a highlight is her duet with John Starling, “old five and dimer’s like me”. It’s Emmylou. Enough said!

Alanis Morissette - flavors of entanglement: Oh Alanis. How intriguing are thee, as usual? Strange lyrics filled with metaphors, combined with, at times, supernatural music. Part of the fun of listening to Alanis’ music is trying to figure out what the heck the lyrics actually mean. With titles like “straitjacket”, “versions of violence”, “in praise of the vulnerable man”, and “giggling again for no reason”, you know it’s going to be an interesting album. It certainly lives up to that. The lady certainly keeps me guessing throughout the album. Guessing at her sanity, that is!

The Stairwell Sisters - Get off your money: Yee Haw!! After figuring out the puzzle of Alanis, let’s get to some music that doesn’t need much thinking. Kick up your heels, do a little two step, a square dance, or just tap your toes and enjoy some sweet bluegrass from a quintet of ladies. You’ll discover excellent instrumentation, great harmonies, and wonderful music overall. You know I’m a sucker for great harmonies, and these ladies know just how to draw me in. It’s no surprise that I thought it almost sounded like a more stripped-down version of the Dixie Chicks. Lloyd Maines (‘Chick’ Natalie’s dad) produced this album. It also kind of reminds me of Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard from way back when.

Martha Wainwright - I know you’re married, but I’ve got feelings too : I guess if the title doesn’t get you to either chuckle or raise an eyebrow, then her straight forward lyrics will at least draw one of those reactions. The title of the album is taken from a line in the opening track, “bleeding all over you”. But this isn’t some angst-filled album. There’s a nice variation and balance of intensity with more subtle melodies and gentler arrangements.

Haley Bonar – big star: I found this one on the recommendation of a friend. Am I ever glad I did. Another smile was added when I realized that she’s from my home state. It’s a neat mixture of folk, pop, country, and rock which makes it hard to define – that’s a very good thing!

Katy Perry - One of the boys: This is one of those albums that I had to check out just to see what all the hype was about. I’m still not sure if I’ve figured out an answer to that. I did enjoy the sassy attitude that she displays on the album, and the somewhat feisty, confessional songs. The songs may have the same annoying pop beat, but it’s her strong vocals that set the album apart from most of the other bubblegum pop. “Lost” is a welcome change from the annoying beats.

Ashleigh Flynn - American Dream : Going from horns to banjo seamlessly, this album comes to life with stories about the down-trodden, both young and old, and all still with a gleam of hope for the future – looking for the “American dream”. And Ashleigh has the voice to bring the stories all to life.

Mark Chesnutt - Rollin’ with the flow: Mark has been one of the few male country artists who is able to stay a bit in the mainstream, yet seems still entrenched enough into ‘real’ country to keep my interest. Fiddles and steel guitar are still an important part in his music, and that’s evident in most of the songs on his latest album. The title track, of course, is a cover of the old Charlie Rich classic, and you know, it’s not too bad! The rest of the album is even better.

The Higgins - real thing : It’s not a coincidence that family groups seem to usually have the best harmonies. It’s no different here. A trio of siblings – John, Eileen & Kathleen – hail from Canada, but their music seems to transcend any specific area or genre. I hear a hint of bluegrass, some country, a little pop, and a mix of a few other styles. For me, the music is secondary. The thing that really catches my ear is their fabulous harmonies, which kind of reminds me of Little Big Town.

Melinda Schneider - Be Yourself: “do those blue jeans make you look fat?” Ha! That’s the first line from the first song on this album, which is the title song, and it made me laugh. That was the first sign that this was going to be a fun album for me to listen to. “isn’t there someone you’d rather be? Be yourself. Everybody else is taken. No one else will do the things you do.” This album keeps taking you on a journey of a bend-but-not-break attitude, and stand strong. “I die a little when I think about the days that passed us by. And I cry every time the fiddle plays.” is sung on “cry a little”, and probably my favorite song from the album, “People don’t change” -- “You wanna believe and you hold out hope, But if you're asking me the answers nope. I know people don't change.” In all, a great ‘positive’ album and a wonderful glimpse of Melinda ‘being herself’.

Beck - Modern Guilt: As usual with Beck, it’s the lyrics that are more interesting than the instrumentations on the songs. I’m not much of a fan of the songs themselves, but I usually enjoy the lyrics and that’s the case here. I’d call it a so-so record.

Mamma Mia Soundtrack Beware! This soundtrack (and the movie) has supernatural powers. For some reason, it has possessed my mother. She has seen the movie four times, and has two copies of the soundtrack – one in the house and one in her vehicle – and she plays them constantly. As for the songs themselves, I knew a few of the ABBA songs previously, so it was easy to sing along with. I loved the songs that Meryl sings. And how can you not love Christine Baranski singing “does your mother know?” Most of the vocals are pretty good, with the exception of Pierce Brosnan. While he gives it a good try, his voice doesn’t have the strength it needs for the music. So, if you’re listening for the songs themselves, then I’d suggest getting the ABBA originals. If you’re listening to hear certain actors singing, this is a pretty good one to check out.

The Lost Trailers - Holler Back : more mindless, uninteresting upbeat music that is disguised under the ‘country’ label. Three songs into the album and I swear they’ve all sounded the same. So, for the mainstream country fans who wouldn’t know ‘country’ if it kicked them in the butt with a cowboy boot, this album’s perfect for you. For me, I’ll pass and move on.

8/5/08 -
Heidi Newfield - What am I waiting for : In an answer to the title of the album… THIS is what I’ve been waiting for! I always loved Heidi’s voice when she was with Trick Pony, but I wasn’t always thrilled with their music selections. Now on her own, Heidi can offer up more variety and highlight her voice even more. It’s apparent right from the first song – “can’t let go” – which offers up a rockabilly ditty. The first single released off the album was “Johnny & June”. A great story about searching for the ‘perfect love’ – just like what Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash had for over 35 years. As with a few songs on the album, she starts out a bit soft & slower, but then she gets to rear back and explode into the chorus. “Wreck you” is also another favorite – “I don’t know how to pull you back. I don’t know how to pull you close. All I know is how to wreck you. Some thing between us changed, I’m not sure if it’s you and me, but lately all I do seems to wreck you.” In all, an excellent album, and in my opinion, an excellent decision by Heidi to go out on her own.

Amy Ray - didn’t it feel kinder : I’ve heard quite a bit of music by the Indigo Girls over the past few years, but this was the first solo album by Amy that I’d heard and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. The first thing I learned immediately, DON’T expect to hear the folky, acoustic music you’re used to from the Indigo Girls. Amy’s solo music is raw, has more gritty guitar sounds, and even a bit grittier vocals. However, the lyrics are just as straight forward as you’d expect. “SLC Radio”, “bus bus”, “who sold the gun”, “birds of a feather”, and “stand and deliver” all make the album worth a listen.

Carrie Rodriguez - She ain’t me : If you’ve ever heard either of Carrie’s duet albums with Chip Taylor, you might think you have the wrong lady here. Just like Amy Ray’s solo albums are different from the Indigo Girls, Carrie’s solo albums are nothing like “red dog tracks” or “let’s leave this town”. Much of the difference in sound from her first record, “seven angels on a bicycle” can be attributed to the fact that this time Carrie co-wrote most of the songs here, collaborating with Gary Louris of the Jayhawks, as well as Mary Gauthier, and Dan Wilson. The surprise on this album is the appearance of Lucinda Williams on “mask of Moses”. Lucinda’s not featured prominently in the song, but provides nice backing vocals. While the album is decent, I still prefer the simplicity of her duet albums with Chip Taylor.

8/19/08 -
Amy MacDonald - this is the life : This is an album that just kind of sneaks up on you. One listen through and you think “yeah, the album is okay”. After a couple more listens through you think “yeah, I like this album”, and even a few more full listens through it hits you “this is a darn good album”. “And you’re singing the songs thinking this is the life and you wake up in the morning and your head feels twice the size Where you gonna go? Where you gonna go? Where you gonna sleep tonight? Where you gonna sleep tonight?” Does she ever take a breath in this song? LOL That’s the title song, and it’s one of those that gets stuck in my head. I saw one review that called Amy an “old head on young shoulders” and I absolutely agree with that. She’s only 20 years old, but her writing seems much more mature and wise than you’d expect.

Julianna Hatfield - how to walk away : This marks Julianna’s 10th solo album, and you get a chance to notice the subtle changes that having a different producer makes. Here we get more of a rhythm guitar beat rather than the driving guitar sounds. Considering the title, you’d think this would be an album about break-up songs. However, instead of broken romance or loss, you get the feel of melancholy or disappointment - “then it was over and I will never be the same. I finally wised up, but the fact remains I stayed too long.” – is the heart of the opening song, “the fact remains”. It’s kind of a refreshing change from the usual mopey or pissed off end-of-romance songs.

Chris Knight - heart of stone : Chris is an artist who’s a songwriter first. Some of his songs have been turned into hits by some of the mainstream country artists. I think that’s a bit of an injustice, because Chris has more of a unique voice than most of the generic mainstreamers of today, and probably would bring more flavor to those songs. However, we are blessed to have his voice on these songs, and he turns them into gold. He’s often been compared to Steve Earle & John Mellencamp, mainly because of his writing style. That’s quite evident in “Danville” – ‘She ain't going back to Danville till she's dead. He got the whole town believing that she was to blame. But it’s half-filled with people with his last name.’ And “Crooked Road” is just as powerful – ‘Logan, West Virginia is 100 miles behind; Coal mine took my boy's life & my Janie's peace of mind. All I know is back in Logan, and I ain’t never been that smart, but I know I had to leave there to heal my Janie’s heart.’ Just goes to show that he’s one hell of a storyteller.

Sonya Kitchell - This Storm : I had heard great reviews for this album, so I had to check it out. I have yet to make up my mind about it. There’s nothing that really steps up and grabs me on the album. Individually, there are some good songs here – “running”, “here to there”, “fire”, and “effortless” - probably more of the upbeat tunes as I’m not a big fan of her voice, and the up-tempo tunes hide the voice better.

Rodney Crowell - Sex and gasoline : Rodney has kind of been a staple in the country/Americana genres for a couple decades now, after emerging (as a few people did) as a member of Emmylou Harris’ “Hot Band”. “this mean old world runs on sex and gasoline.” Well, that’s one way to sum it up, and Rodney does it well. He still is able to write songs about current events, or current state of the world, and not have them too straightforward that they offend people, but rather make them think. “If I could have just one wish, maybe for an hour. I’d wanna be a woman and feel that phantom power. Maybe I’d want to stick around for a while, until my heart got broke. Maybe then I could find out if I’m a half decent man, or if I’m just a joke.” LOL When I first heard that in “the rise & fall of intelligent design”, I burst out laughing, then I realized Rodney is a genius. The rest of the album is much the same way – the songs just make you stop and think. I think that’s the greatest thing a singer/songwriter can do.

Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby - self titled : another husband & wife teaming up to make some good music. I like how we keep seeing a bit more of that these days. It used to be fairly prevalent in the good old days of country music, then turned into an endangered species. It may just be coincidence then that this album ends with a cover of “I still miss someone”, the tune forever identified with Johnny Cash, who with his wonderfully talented wife, June Carter Cash, made one heck of a duet team. At times, I’m often annoyed by the strange background sounds throughout this album. Otherwise, it’d be a great package. Their voices blend well together.

Bruce Robison – The new world : Bruce has always been recognized as a wonderful songwriter. Vocally, I still think he’s at his best when singing with his wife, Kelly Willis (take a listen to their ‘live’ duet version of “angry all the time”. It puts the Tim McGraw version to shame.). “the new world” brings together a nice collection of heartfelt, good country songs. “Echo” would be my favorite from this album. It’s a great story.

9/9/08 -
George Jones - Burn your playhouse down: the unreleased duets: It’s not often that you get to hear music by parents with their children. Therefore, it’s a pleasure to have this album start off with a duet from George & his daughter, Georgette (‘you and me and time’). Her mother was the wonderful Tammy Wynette. At times I can hear a bit of Tammy in Georgette’s voice. Interestingly enough, the album closes with a duet by George & Tammy (“lovin’ you, lovin’ me”). In between, there are some interesting collaborations – Leon Russell, Keith Richards, Mark Knopfler, Vince Gill, Shelby Lynne, Dolly Parton, Ricky Skaggs & more. The duet with Dolly, “rockin’ years” was actually a duet Dolly did with Ricky Van Shelton a number of years ago. The title track is the duet with Keith Richards, and it’s pretty cool.

Catie Curtis - sweet life: yes, there is such a thing as sugar overload, a little too much sweetness can make you ill. That was my first thought after listening to this album for the first time. After a few more listens, I came to the conclusion that it’s really not that bad. It could use a bit more grit, but it does have its highlights – such as “happy”, “sing”, “fools” and “over”.

Dar Williams - Promise land: “it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright” Yes, the opening song sums up the album – it’s alright. I guess I wouldn’t stack it up next to some of Dar’s best work, but it’s not bad. The vocals are wonderful as usual. There are just some songs here where the melody doesn’t grab me. Some of the songs that intrigued me were “buzzer”, “go to the woods”, “it’s alright”, “troubled times” and “midnight radio”

Lindsey Buckingham - Gift of screws: I guess I’ve never been a fan of Lindsey without Stevie. This album is no exception. However, Lindsey’s guitar work is always worth a listen. He makes things sound so different from normal guitar players. “did you miss me”, “wait for you”, “love runs deeper”, “the right place to fade”, “underground” and “treason” are all fairly decent songs, but would be much better with the Fleetwood Mac harmonies.

9/23/08 -
Ralph Stanley II - This one is two: I was surprised when this album arrived at the radio station. I didn’t realize Ralph II was doing music himself. When you’ve got a name with a numeral behind it, that usually means you have something to prove. With Ralph Stanley II, it’s a big mountain to climb. Ralph Sr is an icon in the bluegrass world. That’s why it’s great that Ralph II has his music more countrified. His music and his voice remind me a lot of Randy Travis. From beginning to end, this is a great album of pure country music.

Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue: Choose whatever phrase you want – “K.I.S.S.” (Keep.It.Simple.Stupid), “less is more”, “overdone is overused” - It seems that Jenny kept those phrases in mind when recording this album. This album is ‘nicely simple’. “Carpetbaggers” includes guest vocals from Elvis Costello, which I still don’t think fit well with the song. “Jack killed mom” is an interesting listen.

Old Crow Medicine Show - Tennessee Pusher: The boys are back with their third Nettwerk release. Produced by legendary producer, Don Was, this one sounds more like a Bob Dylan/Neil Young combination, with a tiny tinge of R&B in their country. Whatever you call them – Americana, Folk, Bluegrass, Country, etc - it’s still darn good music and a darn good album from beginning to end.

Rachael Yamagata - Elephants… teeth sinking into heart: I had never heard Rachael’s music before listening to this album, but had heard good things about her music. The first thing I thought when beginning playing the album – the music reminds me of Dido. I will admit that the first few songs from the album had me yawning, and itching to hit ‘fast forward’. They all kind of sounded the same – same tempo, same sound – but then things seemed to pick up a bit. “over and over” seemed to bring more emotion. Disc 2 starts with “sidedish friend”. Now we’ve got my toes tapping and my head bobbing. This is more like it!! It’s songs like this that really bring out her voice so much more than those first quiet/mello cuts on the album.

The Pretenders - Break up the concrete: I don’t know about breaking up the concrete, but I will say ‘break out the champagne’ as Chrissie & The Pretenders have a new album out!! That being said, there really wasn’t a song on the album that blew me away – nothing that really could compare to ‘Brass in Pocket’, ‘Back on the Chain Gang’, ‘Middle of the Road’ or any of the other Pretenders classics. There’s quite a bit of rockabilly (which had me tapping my toes), a little bit jazzy/blues, some classic rock sounds, and of course, Chrissie’s wonderful voice.

Crystal Sands - self titled: My eyes nearly bugged out when I saw “a bottle of wine and Patsy Cline” as one of the songs on this album. Wow! I haven’t heard that song in about 20 years when Marsha Thornton released the song somewhere around 1989-1990. I was still playing it on vinyl ’45 at the radio station. I can’t totally remember Marsha’s version, but I think it was a bit better than this one. Nevertheless… This is a nice ‘throwback’ country album – some good old country sounds. “These are them” sounds quite familiar, but can’t think if I’ve actually heard it before. “Every time I think it’s over” is a nice duet with Ron Williams. “not any closer” is a song co-written by John Wiggins. That’s quite noticeable after listening to it. The song sounds like something that John & Audrey Wiggins would have been singing back a decade ago. I loved their harmonies and wish they would still be in the mainstream.

LeeAnn Womack - Call Me Crazy: I wouldn’t call her “crazy”, these days at least. I actually called Lee Ann “crazy” back at the beginning of the decade with the release of “I hope you dance” – when she gave up her originality just to follow the crowd and turn to the mainstream country audience to get her name recognized. She redeemed herself a little with “There’s more where that came from” a few years ago. This one is a bit more of the same, thankfully. It’s got a decent country feel, but yet sounds a bit over-polished at times. I think Lee Ann is at her best when the music is more raw & sparse. “We can just go on like this or say the word, we’ll call it quits. Baby you can go or you can stay. I won’t love you either way”. I’ve never had a problem with the lyrics of her songs, just the occasionally over-production of the music. Throughout this album, I hear the nice sounds of the pedal steel, fiddle, and acoustic guitar. Leave it to a country ‘troubador’ to provide guest vocals on the best track of this album – George Strait duets with Lee Ann on “everything but quits”. “The bees”, “either way”, “I think I know”, “If these walls could talk”, “the king of broken hearts”, and “the story of my life” are pretty good songs, and together they make up a great album. “Solitary thinking” is more of a blues tune and kind of feels out of place with the rest of the album.

Craig Morgan - That’s why: - “If you’re on your feet before the sun comes up, and out there in your truck making hay, rain or shine, break a sweat before daylight; A guy that ain’t afraid of work, elbow grease & good clean dirt. Taste of whiskey make from corn, you save your Sundays for the Lord. It’s a good chance you were born & raised in the sticks.” – When I first heard that song, “sticks”, from this album, I couldn’t believe that it wasn’t an Aaron Tippin song. It sounded exactly like something Aaron would sing. “Love remembers” was the first single from this album released to radio. The song was “okay”, but basically sounded like most of the other mainstream songs on radio these days. Originally, I was hesitant to listen to this album as male country mainstream artists usually don’t get much space in my music listening rotation. While I consider it still a bit too mainstream for my taste, the album does have a few good selections – such as the aforementioned “sticks”, “God must really love me”, “summer sundown”, and the title track. The best track, however, would be “lookin’ back with you”. Now, if Craig could just get rid of the over-meshed music and ‘countrify’ it a bit more, this would be a great album.

Hank Williams III - Damn right rebel proud: For me, listening to Hank III’s music usually includes some eyebrow raising and a few chuckles along the way. The guy just lets it all hang out – “They were nervous about Waylon, cuz he had a crooked smile, for many, many years they never wanted Bocephus, he was just too god damned loud. Do you really think they ever wanted Johnny Paycheck hanging around? Hell no, cuz they’re too uptight wild But real rebels like to get down. And the Grand Old Opry ain’t so grand any more. They done f*cked off the people that made it work shit before. Hell, they didn’t even want Johnny Cash back in ’74.” – and that’s just the first song!! Most of the rest really aren’t that blunt. They’re just some good honky-tonkers. “Me & my friends”, “candidate for suicide”, “long hauls & close calls”… Hank’s whiny, gravelly voice just makes the music so much more than what the songs are themselves.

10/28/08 -
Pink - Funhouse: I still keep asking myself, “why Pink?” Except for a few songs here & there, I usually don’t care for the poppy female artists – like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Jessica Simpson, etc. But Pink has been the one glaring exception; the one artist whom I can usually listen to quite faithfully. I think the conclusion I’ve come to is that she has a ‘rock’ edge to her songs and her voice has enough strength for that to shine through. That’s was highlighted most with her wonderful, thought-provoking song, “Dear Mr President”. With her latest effort, Pink takes us to her ‘funhouse’, which is… what? Well, I think I’d consider it the ‘funhouse’ of life’s ups & downs – the good, the bad & the ugly – all rolled into one. “I could’ve had everything, I should’ve had everything, you almost got me thinking I screwed myself over.” Some may consider this her ‘divorce album’, and they’d probably be right. The highlight would be “crystal ball” – a folky ballad. “sometimes you think everything is wrapped inside a diamond ring. Love just needs a witness and a little forgiveness, and a halo of patience, and a less sporadic pace and I'm learning to be brave in my beautiful mistakes.” The rest of the album is pure Pink too.

Susan Tedeschi - Back to the river: Thankfully, Susan wasn’t afraid to bring in a fine lineup of guests for this album. As you’d expect, her husband, Derek Trucks, makes an appearance with his slide guitar, as well as producer and co-writer of “Brothers” with Susan. Also appearing are notables Gary Louis and Doyle Bramhall II. Susan’s voice is as strong as ever, with that hint of a rasp that gives the music an extra little kick of the blues vibe.

11/4/08 -
Mark Wills - Familiar strangers: Mark is another of the very few male mainstream country artists that I occasionally enjoy listening to. He started out his career with some great ballads (“don’t laugh at me”, “wish you were here”) that allowed him to get noticed. There are a few good ones on this album too – “the likes of you”, “her kiss”, and “entertaining angels” – but they’re not quite in the class of his first ones, but come close. This album is a fairly decent total package, and he keeps it just countrified enough to keep me listening from beginning to end.

Dido - Safe trip home: After the first listen through this album, I realized it was appropriately titled. Dido’s voice is mellow & soothing, and it kind of makes you feel safe. With this new album, I was hoping to find another “white flag”, “here with me” or “thank you” – one of those songs that kind of grabs you and sticks in your head. I’m sad to say that I didn’t really find it. However, “never want to say it’s love” and “don’t believe in love” come close. This happens to be an enjoyable album if you’re in an introspective mood.

Hinder - Take it to the limit: So, those of you who know my musical taste are probably thinking, “huh? Hinder?!?” Yeah, I can’t quite believe I actually listened to the album myself. Well, I’ve been trying to expand my music listening selection, and I did enjoy their version of “lips of an angel” a few years ago, so I figured I’d give the new album a shot. I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed “loaded and alone”, “last kiss goodbye”, “without you”, “the best is yet to come”, and “thing for you”. That being said, I still probably wouldn’t listen to them very often.

Tracy Chapman - Our Bright Future : The future is usually bright when there’s Tracy Chapman music in the air. Since this album was only released a short time ago, I haven’t had the opportunity to really sit down and listen to it uninterrupted as a full album. (the only reason it’s not on my Top 10) The songs themselves are typical Tracy. I really didn’t hear a song that stood out the way “subcity” and “Fast car” do (my favorite two Tracy songs!), but there’s always something great about new music from Tracy Chapman.

Seal - Soul: Here’s another artist that I occasionally enjoy listening to when I want to hear something different. I love his smooth, mellow voice. On this album, Seal re-does some of the classics – and does them very well. Some of the songs I have heard so many times by many different people, but Seal is able to turn them into gold with his smooth delivery.

Kevin Costner & Modern West – untold truths: yes, it’s the actor. I’ve got a fascination with singing actors, like Katey Sagal, Maureen O’hara, Lisa Hartman, Sissy Spacek, Stepfanie Kramer, Kristy & Jimmy McNichol, Crystal Bernard, Bruce Willis, Gloria Loring, Mare Winningham, and a few more I can’t think of right now. Yeah, I’ve got music from all of them, and I pretty much like them all – even if a few of them could use a bit more fune-tuning. It’s just interesting to hear them sing. With this one… well, I like Kevin on screen, but I think his voice on this music is going to take a lot more getting used to. The songs themselves are actually pretty good, mainly light pop with a twinge of country – kind of like it can’t make up its mind if it wants to be pop or country.

Serena Ryder – is it OK? (Canadian release) : Is it okay? Oh, hell yeah! I’d say ‘okay’ is a bit of an understatement. Serena is someone I recently discovered while searching for 2008 album releases. I’d almost call her a tamer version of Beth Hart. At times she has the raspy growl like Beth, but her music isn’t quite as abrasive. I like it. It’s an angst-filled album, but doesn’t come across as pouty or grouchy. The album closes with ‘Dark as the Black’ “one world, one love; means nothing if you’re just pretending.” And features a short haunting harmonica melody. There’s also a reference to the great Gopher State - “There’s a crack in the ground from old New York all the way to Minnesota/I can see by the way 10,000 lakes are screaming for more water.” I found an interesting tidbit as I was finding out more info about this artist and album – it was recorded in the same studio where Fleetwood Mac recorded Rumors. The U.S. release is set for February 2009. Definitely add this one on your list to pick up.

Heather Nova – The Jasmine Flower: Here’s another instance where an artist uses the ‘less is more’ approach. With this album, Heather relies on her voice, a guitar, and occasionally a string quartet. It makes for a great sound as the sparse instrumentation brings a stronger highlight to her soothing vocals.

Blake Shelton – startin’ fires: Blake is an artist that I just can’t dislike, no matter how much I want to. He keeps it country enough for me to be entertained, but still walks that line where I’m so close to turning it off. Right from the beginning he has me smiling with “green” – “I got a hundred acre farm, I got a John Deere in my barn, I got a garden in my yard full of corn, peas & beans. I got a guitar I play unplugged, I got a home grown girl I love, and when the summertime hits we skinny dip in the stream. I was green before green was a thing.” The rest of the album is a fine mix of faster & slower songs with great instrumentation. I think the thing about Blake that keeps me tuned in is that his voice sounds ‘real’. No matter if it’s a slow ballad or an up-tempo toe-tapper, his voice always sounds honest & sincere. The album finishes quite nicely with a duet with his girlfriend, Miranda Lambert, on “bare skin rug”.

Guns N Roses – chinese democracy: Well, after what… 15 years (give or take)… It’s finally happened. That’s right, hell has finally frozen over… ummm, I mean Axl finally quit pissing around. I have to wonder what the hell all of the fuss was about. Yes, I know, I’ve never been a GnR fan – except for “sweet child of mine”, but this album doesn’t seem like anything a person would fuss over for 15 years.

Akon – freedom: Here’s another of those artists that I really like, but can’t understand why. Maybe because the music isn’t definable. You get pop/rap/r&b all wrapped together. The album is aptly named because it gives you a feeling of being free. It’s more of the pop and less of the R&B/hip hop. Akon’s high and whiny voice is just so different than most anyone else that it’s actually refreshing to listen to and almost gives the songs a brighter outlook, even if it’s dark lyrics. Akon welcomes a few special guests on this album – Wyclef, Ray Lavender, T-Pain, Lil Wayne & more. They don’t always complement his vocals very well, but they do add a little bit more flavor.

- - - - - - - - - - -

I know there are many that I’ve missed as well, but that’s the majority of the albums I’ve checked out throughout 2008.

- - - - - - - - - - -

That means it’s time to look ahead. So, what’s on the horizon? Well, here’s what I can find so far:

Billy Ray Cyrus - “Back To Tennessee” 1/13/09
Chris Cornell – “Scream” 2/3/09
Michelle Branch “Everything Comes and Goes” Winter 2008
Eminem “Relapse” Dec 23rd?
Goo Goo Dolls [Title TBA] Late 2008?
Indigo Girls [Title TBA] Feb 2009
Matchbox Twenty [Title TBA] 2009
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band “Working on a Dream” 1/27/09
Melissa Auf der Maur “Out of Our Minds” 2008?
Schuyler Fisk - TBA [Feb 2009] (it’s about time! LOL Have you heard her mom, Sissy, sing? Check out her country album from back in the 80s in my albums uploaded post)
Willie Nelson & Asleep at the Wheel - Willie And The Wheel 2/3/09
Michael Martin Murphey - "Buckaroo Blue Grass" 2/10/09

- - - - - - - - -

So, what have I missed? What are your thoughts on the albums?

No comments:

Post a Comment