Sunday, January 24, 2010

2009 album reviews

I've come to the conclusion that I'm never going to finish all of the reviews from the 2009 albums that I've heard, so let's just go with what I've got done - in addition to the Top-15 albums of 2009 I posted previously.


-- Alice Peacock – love remains
“I’d like to get stoned, never come home. I’d like to be free, not do what I should. Do what feels good with whomever I please.” – All About Me

A diverse compilation of rugged & reflective stories is what this album is all about; From Hard Way (“I could make it easy on myself, Taking the advice of someone else. But if there's a road that goes through hell, That's what I'd take.”) to If I Could Talk To God (“If I could talk to God - I’d have a million questions. If we could sit down face to face, I’d inquire how He likes to spend his days and if he has any regrets about this world he made.”) combined with nice instrumentation, makes this album a must-listen.

-- Adam Lambert – for your entertainment
“you feel the weight of lies and contradictions that you live with every day. It's not too late
Think of what could be if you rewrite the role you play. Take a step before you leap, Into the colors that you seek. You give back what you give away, So don't look back on yesterday.” - Aftermath

I don’t watch any of that reality show crap, so didn’t know what all of the hype was over this guy, and I guess I still don’t. After listening to the album, I would rate it as ‘average’. At first listen, I felt like I was thrown back to 1980s rock. The songs themselves aren’t too bad, but the album, as a whole, is kind of all over the place in terms of continuity. If I had to pick a favorite song from this collection, I’d go with Broken Open. If this is the best that American Idol has to offer these days, then it’s a good thing I’m still not wasting my time watching.

Alecia Nugent – Hillbilly goddess
“I turned up my bottle, poured his memory down. Took a hard look at my bible, almost made me turn around. Then that moon started shining, casting shadows of doubt. That’s just me wreckin’ the train. Just when things are going my way, that need for rambling gets rolling through my veins. Don’t try to change me, no I ain’t gonna change.” – Wreckin’ the train

The grass is mighty blue to begin this album and I guarantee that you’ll be tapping your toes by the first 30 seconds of this album with the rollin’ Wreckin’ The Train. You’re afforded a breather with the slower paced, Don’t Tell Me, a song that I’ve heard recorded by LeeAnn Womack previously. I like this version with the bluegrass sound much better than LeeAnn’s smoother, mellow version. The album continues with the mixed up & down tempo. As with most bluegrass music, the songs tell great stories, and Alecia’s voice is the perfect ingredient to add the final touch in making this a great album.

B --

-- Bearfoot – doors and windows
“you don’t have to talk about me. It won’t change who I am. I’ll be traveling down some road to nowhere, before you see me again.” – Northward Bound

Bearfoot is a five-member bluegrass group from Alaska, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a typical bluegrass album. While it may offer some of the traditional bluegrass sounds, the album kind of evolves into a blend of Americana-Folk. If you want a real taste of this quintet, take a listen to the album finale – the five-part a cappella original, Good In The Kitchen. Even the Beatles’ cover, Don’t Let Me Down, is quite lovely.

-- Billy Ray Cyrus – Back to Tennessee
“He was 17, and his heart was broke. The middle of the night, a bottle full of pills and a goodbye note. Sittin’ on his bed, but then he bowed his head. Now I see him every week, and every now & then he talks about that night and the peace that came over him.” – Somebody said a prayer

Riding on the coattails of his daughter, Miley, Billy Ray comes out with a new album that really doesn’t say much. He’s kind of lost his musical touch from his previous decent singles through the years, like “Busy Man,” “Some Gave All,” and “Could’ve Been Me”. Here, “thrillbilly” tries to imitate something that sounds like Big & Rich. As much as I don’t like B&R, I think they do a pop-hillbilly sound much better. “Country as country can be” tries to make him sound like a ‘country’ boy, but he never pulls it off successfully. The fiddles seem so out of place with the rest of the over-production. The cover of Sheryl Crow’s Real Gone – Oy! The finale to this album is a Billy Ray duet with his daughter, Miley, on Butterfly Fly Away, which seems kind of a rip-off of Butterfly Kisses. What I actually do like from this album is Somebody said a prayer and give it to somebody. Two decent songs with great messages.

Bomshel – fight like a girl
“Bein free bein wild being bullet proof back then we were rebels without a clue. nothing in the world that we wouldn't do. Didn't give a damn what people say we were doing it doing it our way i wish that we could always stay 19 and crazy.” – 19 & crazy

Kelley Shepard replacing Buffy Lawson to sing in tandem with Kristy Osmunson hasn’t brought forth any changes in sound for the duo of Bomshel. In fact, I hear many similarities between their previous songs and this new album – 19 & Crazy is the ‘rebel’ theme, much like Ain’t My Day To Care back in 2006. The title track, Fight Like A Girl is lyrically similar to The Power of One, which the duo had included on the Evan Almighty soundtrack. And how can you not compare Karma is a female dog to It Was an Absolutely, Finger Lickin', Grits and Chicken, Country Music Love Song? The song from this album that raises an eyebrow (maybe both) is the cover of No Doubt’s Just a girl. Interesting, to say the least. However, none of the songs on this album can unseat Calling All Angels as my favorite Bomshel song.

Brad Paisley – American Saturday night
“When I was 10 years old, I remember thinking how cool it would be, when we were going on an 8-hour drive, if I could just watch tv. I’d have given anything to have my own PacMan game at home. I used to have to get a ride down to the arcade. Now I’ve got it on my phone.” – Welcome To The Future

Oh how this man continues to confound me! He continues to be sweet and sensitive, with songs like She’s Her Own Woman, Then and I Hope That’s Me. Then he’s Mr Old-School American with American Saturday Night, and Welcome to the Future. And finally he pokes you in the gut with the wacky & absurd, like Catch All The Fish. That’s been his recipe for success from the beginning. Thank goodness he’s not changing anytime soon.

D --

-- Dolly Parton – Dolly (4 disc set)
“ Just because I’m blonde, don’t think I’m dumb, ‘cause this dumb blonde ain’t nobody’s fool” – dumb blonde

Normally, when an artist has been making music for as long as Dolly has, the ‘greatest hits’ albums usually become much of the same. This one, however, is quite different. This 99-song collection includes all of the Dolly favorites in a 4-cd set, including Jolene, 9 to 5, I will always love you and Coat of Many Colors, and of course, the great duets with Porter Wagonner and Kenny Rogers. But the treasures here are the a number of previously unreleased songs, and there are some from her very early days where she almost sounds a bit like Brenda Lee.

The greatest thing about Dolly’s music is her down-home songwriting. It’s usually all straight-forward lyrics and not a lot of metaphors to try and decipher.

-- Donna Ulisse – walk this mountain down
“They say I’m young, and I don’t know how sure love lasts, how fast it goes. But I don’t care. I’ll risk the pain, ‘cuz I want to ride love’s crazy train.” – Love’s crazy train

How do you like your bluegrass? Me? I kind of like it Donna Ulisse style – rockin’ acoustic instruments, good stories, and great harmonies. Classic bluegrass. Enough said.

E --

- Eilen Jewell – sea of tears
“There’s only one constant in this whole world, that’s nothing ever stays the same. Someday my life will be over, and no one will remember my name. That’s alright, ‘cause what’s in a name? Who needs another one to memorize anyway? Make no fuss over my grave. Just plant something pretty and call it a day. Let’s just listen to the rain roll in. I don’t feel like we gotta do nothing. Years go by and before too long, even the very last one is gone. The very last one is gone.” – Rain Roll In

With tiles like I’m Gonna Dress In Black, One Of Those Days, Final Hour, and The Darkest Day, you’d think this was going to be a depressing album. Not so. Those titles may suggest lost love or lost loved ones, but some of the beats are anything but. Take The Darkest Day, for example. It’s a break-up song disguised in a country swing. Final Hour brings you the blues. The title track brings a bit of rockin’ to the mix.

-- Eric Church – carolina
“You say you’re the real deal, but you play what nobody feels. You sing about Johnny Cash. The ‘man in black’ would’ve whipped your ass. And I don’t think Waylon done it that way. And if he was here he'd say Hoss, neither did Hank. I ain't dogging what you're doing, But boys come on let's get real, You still got a lotta boot left to fill”. – Lotta boot left to fill

I liked a few songs from Eric’s first album, Sinners like me, including the title track, Two Pink Lines, and Guys Like Me. However, this new album is a bit too much of the mainstream country that I don’t really enjoy. That being said, there are some nice tunes, such as Love Your Love The Most, His Kind Of Money, Hell On The Heart, and Faster Than My Angels Can Fly. However, one listen to the story of Those I’ve Loved will keep me from skipping to the next album. And how about Where She Told Me To Go? “When I said baby, it's all for the better. Yeah what do you know, I think I wound up where she told me to go.” Lotta Boot Left To Fill pokes fingers at those using the Johnny Cash name in their songs. Uh, hypocritical much?

F --

-- Flyleaf – Memento Mori
“Here you are down on your knees again, trying to find air to breathe again. Only surrender will help you now. I love you, please see and believe again.” - Again

Yeah, not the usual type of music that I listen to, but hey, it has the same title as a Stargate SG-1 episode, so I had to check it out. The one problem I have with hard rock music is that it takes me a long time to actually understand what the lyrics are. Most of the time they become distorted in the music. When I could finally understand them, I realized they were a bit Christian-themed at times. It’s nice to hear lyrics in the hard rock genre that are fairly positive in nature.

G --
- - Gemma Hayes – Oliver EP:
Just five songs, but yet a very nice compilation. Most of the songs are very thought-provoking, or introspective, like These Days: “These days I seem to think a lot, about the things that I forgot to do. And all the times that I had a chance to.” My favorite from this five-song set is Ghost. “This is what I see. This is what I believe in.” This EP is more mellow than last year’s, The Hollow of Morning LP.

J --
Justin Townes Earle – midnight at the movies
“Well when John Henry died, he laid looking at the sun. He said ‘Lord take me now, my work is done. Lord, Lord. Lord, take me now, my work is done’. Yeah, but when they laid him out in that box of pine, boy, they laid that hammer by his side. Lord, lord. Laid that hammer by his side.” – They Killed John Henry

He’s got the name and he’s got the voice. He’s got a pretty nice knack for making good music, and he knows how to mix things up. He can do old-school, he can do swing, he can do rockabilly, and more. It’s nice to hear an album that’s got a little bit of everything, yet has that voice that brings it all together seamlessly.

K --
Kris Kristofferson – closer to the bone
“Cool shadows fall through the moonlight. Soft as a breeze through your hair. And the smile on your face while you’re sleeping is the answer to anyone’s prayer. Fill your heart for the morning tomorrow. You still got a long way to grow. And the love that you’re dreaming will guide you, and live like a song in your soul.” – From Here To Forever

He’s never been a real great singer, but Kris’ songs have always been at the forefront. That’s quite evident with his latest album. His voice is quite ragged now, but he can sure tell a story. Just take a listen to Sister Sinead. From Here To Forever is a song he wrote for his kids. And one guess at who Good Morning John is about. You wanna put some 'Cash' on that bet?

L --

Lyle Lovett – natural forces
“I think I’ll look around for a drinking stream. I think I’ll look around for a drinking stream. They say you turned the water into wine. That must’ve been right this time, ‘cause I look around for a drinking stream and I can’t find one.” – Whooping Crane

Where this wacky, wonderful talent gets his ideas is anybody’s guess. He just always keeps me shaking my head in amusement and tapping my toes in enjoyment at the same time because of his strange songs. Case in point on this album: Farmer Brown – Chicken Reel. Absolute ‘shake-your-head-and-laugh’ entertainment. But he also has a serious side. Don’t You Think I Feel It Too, Sun And Moon And Stars, Empty Blue Shoes. This one is all about the many sides of the man with big hair.

M --
Martina McBride – shine
“Look at you standing there, you look so out of place. I turn around one more time, regret still has your face. I can read your mind right now. You want me to stick around. But nothing ends if I don’t leave right now. Let me go, let me walk away. Walk away, baby. I can’t stay. Walk away. Walk away, baby. I’ll be fine. I will recover, and I will learn to love another. Sometimes goodbye’s the hardest thing to say. So, I’ll walk away.” – Walk Away

Whether she’s bright & cheerful (Sunny Side Up or Don’t Cost A Dime) or sad & sorrowful (I’m trying or Walk Away), Martina’s voice is always front & center, and she’s turned that into an art all in itself. Her voice seems to turn every song into an interesting story, even if it’s just a happy-go-lucky, I Still Call You Mine or Sunny Side Up. Through the years, Martina has become a master at choosing songs that give her voice the spotlight. What makes me smile even more with this album is that I still hear mandolin, fiddle, and steel sounds amidst the guitars. That’s going to garner a two thumbs up almost every time. Also, for a great ‘story’, be sure to check out Wild Rebel Rose.

N --
-- Nanci Griffith – the loving kind
“this house is full of memories that aren’t mine. Pieces I thought I would clear out over time. Life takes over, I get ahead of myself, I turn around and I’ve filled up the shelf with things I don’t need that weigh me down. Things I don’t want, but still keep around. I woke up today and I made up my mind. From now on I’ll leave all those things I don’t need behind.” – Things I don’t need

Nanci has always been one of the great musical storytellers, and this album continues that tradition. Her voice is made for ‘story songs’. However, this album isn’t just filled with story songs, but also includes a few ‘drinking’ songs – like Tequila After Midnight and Pour Me A Drink – the two songs which conclude the album.

-- Naomi Sommers – gentle as the sun
“It’ll be alright. Yes, it’ll be alright. Any time, place, country, day or night. It’ll be alright, and I’ll be good if you stand by me when I say you should.” – It will be alright.

Gentle as the sun is an album of all original songs from Naomi Sommers, and one cover, Sea of Heartbreak. lists this as bluegrass/folk/alt-rock all in one. Personally, I only hear a watered-down version of that. I hear more of a smooth, easy-listening style for most of the songs, mainly because that’s what her vocal style presents itself as. Her voice doesn’t really seem to have the strength to be in any of those genres, it’s too smooth. Other than that sticking point, this is a nice compilation of tunes. Rosanne Cash also did a cover of sea of heartbreak on her album this year, and there’s no comparison between the two. Rosanne is able to give her version a much more ‘real’ style.

-- Natalie Imbruglia – come to life
“I climbed the walls, You hit the bars. I am from Venus, You are from Mars. You got your brand new friends And I got a broken heart. Doesn’t matter who we are…Everyone has their scars.” -- Scars

Come to Life is Natalie’s first studio album since 2005, and the first on her own label, Malabar Records. The album includes three writing collaborations with Coldplay’s Chris Martin, including the first single release, Want. My God, Lukas, Twenty, and Scars are all great tracks to check out.

-- NCIS – official tv soundtrack
“Are you scared of the dark? Are you afraid they’ll break your heart? Are you afraid you’ll lose yourself? Are you afraid of your own health? Are you scared to lose? Are you afraid to choose? Are you afraid you’ll win? Are you scared of your own sin? Are you scared to forgive? Are you afraid to live? Are you afraid to die? Do you think it's all a lie To live When you think you’re dying? To laugh When you feel like crying? To stand When you think you’re gonna fall? It’s just fear after all. It’s only fear after all.” -- Fear by Stop Making Friends (aka Pauley Perrette)

TV show soundtracks usually don’t get me excited. However, when the soundtrack includes songs sung by some of the main characters of the show, that’s another story. The first NCIS soundtrack released this year included songs from two of the main actors – Pauley Perrette (as ‘Stop Making Friends’) on Fear, and Cote De Pablo on Temptation. Add songs by Jakob Dylan, Bob Dylan, Dashboard Confessional, and John Mellencamp, and you’ve got a pretty nice compilation.

-- NCIS – official tv soundtrack Volume 2
“I haven’t been happy in such a long time. Cloudy & gray skies instead of sunshine. I guess that’s how I’m looking now, so pale, like I’m in disguise. I’m thoughtful and I’m gloomy and bitter & blue.” – Bitter & Blue

It’s a bit rare to have two full soundtracks from the same show released in the same year. The NCIS Volume 2 compilation includes songs from Bob Dylan, Norah Jones, Sheryl Crow, John Mellencamp, Joss Stone, Otis Redding, and more, including songs from series star Michael Weatherly. And don’t be surprised with Michael’s songs, he’s got a great voice. It kind of reminds me of Sting. Now, all we need are songs from Mark Harmon, Sean Murray, & David McCallum. As a Sheryl Crow fan, I was a bit disappointed in the song she has included in this compilation. For some reason, the song doesn’t seem to work well with her voice. The greatest song on this album is That time of year by Sick Puppies.

-- Norah Jones – the fall
“You've ruined me now, But I liked it - but I'm ruined. Do you have a plan, 'cause I'm in your hands. You've ruined me now, though I liked it now I'm ruined. I had no choice when I heard your voice. I know you said, can't be mislead. Now I'm the one whose face is red. You ruined me now, though I liked it, now I'm ruined. Your child-lit eyes like buttons of lies.” – You’ve ruined me

We get a bit of a different sound from Norah this time around. The first two songs, Chasing Pirates and Even though, start the album on a great note. The album has a fairly guitar-heavy tone to it, in contrast to her more ‘normal’ piano-driven style. This album delves into more of the ‘soul’ sound. It’s quite a nice change for Norah.

R --
Reba McEntire – keep on loving you
“Her husband left on Saturday for a woman that was half her age. Sunday she just stayed in bed with the covers pulled over her head. But on Monday morning she woke up and loaded up her pickup truck. Took one last look at her old life then hit the gas & said goodbye in her faded jeans and her old baseball cap. All she knows for sure, she ain’t coming back.” – She’s Turning 50 Today

You’ve got to hand it to Reba. After all these years of venturing into different projects (TV show, Broadway productions, etc) this lady still knows how to make music. Just like Martina McBride, Reba can turn a good ‘story’ song into a masterpiece. Take a listen to She’s Turning 50 Today, Eight Crazy Hours (In the story of love), or Over You. She even let’s you kick up your two-stepping heels with I’ll Have What She’s Having .

Rhonda Vincent – destination life
“I’ll make a brand new start, give love a second chance. I’ll put away the blues, you won’t get another glance. You’re nothing to me and baby that’s a fact. I’m looking to the future and I’ll never look back. When the tears come falling down like rain from the sky, leaves me feeling lonely and I hang my head and cry. But there’ll be another day & I’ll start my life anew. It’s a fast break from heartache and the last time loving you.” – Last Time Loving You

There are many who are contending, but Destination Life keeps Rhonda atop the pedestal as the queen of today’s bluegrass. I was intrigued by Rhonda’s cover of Stop the World (and let me off), a song I usually associate with Patsy Cline in her inimitable style. Another interesting cover is Crazy Love. I’ve heard lots of versions of this, but I love Rhonda’s voice with the banjos & fiddles – and of course the harmonies. That’s always a must in bluegrass. You’ve got to have the harmonies. A great way to wrap up the album is the a cappella When I Travel My Last Mile. Lovely. Very lovely.

S --
-- Sarah Darling – every Monday morning
“If this is the way it feels, I don’t wanna feel it anymore. I’m out the door, baby. If this is the way it goes down, don’t wanna be around to see how low it takes me, ‘cause if this is love… baby don’t love me.” – Don’t Love Me

I think of this album as kind of 1970s California Country-Rock. Thankfully, this album doesn’t have the over-production that you hear in a lot of today’s mainstream country. It kind of reminds me of a LeeAnn Womack album. “Jack of Hearts” is the first single off the album, and is probably my favorite from this collection.

Steve Earle – Townes
“If I had no place to fall and I needed to, could I count on you to lay me down? I’d never tell you no lies. Don’t believe it’s wise. But you got pretty eyes. Won’t you spin me around. I ain’t much of a lover it’s true. I’m here then I’m gone. And I’m forever blue. But I’m sure wanting you.” – No Place To Fall

Yes, it’s a tribute to Steve’s hero, Townes Van Zant. He’s enough of a hero for Steve to name his son after the guy. Oh and in case you don’t know your music history, Townes was a pretty darn good singer & songwriter too. It took me a while to warm up to Steve’s version of Pancho & Lefty. It’s a song that I highly associate with Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard. After listening to that version for so long, it was hard to enjoy the change in sound. In usual Steve Earle style, the album is quite raw and old-school. If you’re not familiar with the songs of Townes, this is a great place to start without actually hearing the originals.

Susan Boyle – I dreamed a dream
“when I was a child, I could see the wind in the trees and I heard the song in the breeze. It was there singing out my name. But I’m not a girl. I’ve known the taste of defeat. And I’ve finally grown to believe it’ll all come around again. Though I may not know the answers, I can finally say I’m free. And if the questions led me here, then I’m who I was born to be.” – Who I Was Born To Be

They’re always rare in today’s age of reality shows. They’re the exceptions to the rule. I’m talking about those who are actually worthy of receiving their ’15 minutes of fame’. Susan Boyle is one of those people. There are many cliché’s you can use while describing her success, but the best one is probably “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. It seemed that everyone in the audience (including the judges) on Britian’s Got Talent was groaning and snickering at her before she even sang a single note, I’m guessing because of her appearance. Chalk one up for Susan! One line of lyrics from her voice, and those same groaning & snickering people were gasping in awe at the treasure that they’d all ‘discovered’. With the story of her ‘rise to fame’ aside, the music on this album is comprised of standard covers – Wild Horses, I Dreamed A Dream, Cry Me A River, How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace, Daydream Believer, etc. Yet once again, it’s Susan’s voice that reigns supreme to make this a compilation worthy of your time to listen.

T --

Terri Clark – the long way home
“In the basement of the church, I took the last chair in the room. Embarrassed & ashamed, but that all began to change when she stood up & spoke her truth. She said I came here years ago when I lost my sanity. I hit an all-time low, but then I found serenity. I took shelter hiding from the pain, in any place to make it go away. In the arms of a stranger, keeping company with danger, or staring down the barrel of a gun. At the bottom of a bottle, getting numb with every swallow, ‘cause it’s easy when it’s what you’ve always done with a million ways to run.” – A Million Ways To Run

Truthfully, Terri lost me back a number of years ago with the Pain To Kill album, or maybe even back to How I Feel. She seemed to lose her ‘Countriness’ in favor of the more popular mainstream sound. She hasn’t really roped me back in the fold since then. This album is getting a little bit closer to being back on the right track. I hear mandolin, I hear banjo, I hear shades of what used to draw me to her music to begin with. She seems to have the country sound back, but now she just needs to work on the choice of songs. A Million Ways To Run, The One You Love (featuring Vince Gill), Poor Girls Dream, If I Could Be You, and Tough With Me are all pretty darn good songs. It’s a shame that the most mainstream song from the record, Gypsy Boots, is the first single released. That’s definitely not one that I’d highlight. In fact, it’s probably my least favorite of the entire album. And it also really doesn't represent the rest of the album at all.

W –

- - Willie Nelson/Asleep at the Wheel – Willie & the Wheel
“Bring it on down to my house honey, there ain’t nobody home but me. Bring it on down to my house, honey. I need your company.”

Willie’s done some great duets over his many years in the music business, and his collaborations with Asleep at the Wheel have been some of the best. If you’re in the mood for some Western Swing, this album is the one for you. You’ll recognize Right or wrong, Hesitation Blues, I’m sittin’ on top of the world, and other favorites.

The collaborations don’t end with Willie & the ‘Wheel’ gang. South also features instrumentals from Paul Shaffer (from David Letterman’s show) and Vince Gill.

-- Webb Sisters - Comes in twos
“Love. Hate. Oh what a fine line we walk. Close. Bloom. When do we learn how to talk? Hopes & dreams come in twos. So what do we do when one is gone. Gone.” – Baroque thoughts

Just five songs on this one, but they’re a very nice compilation. Very nice harmonies with these as well, and I love the inclusion of the mandolin sounds without making it bluegrass-ey. They remind me of The Murmurs. If it be your will features the wonderful Leonard Cohen giving them an intro to his song.

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