Blue Highway – Through the Window of a Train
If Dierks Bentley ever makes a bluegrass album, and I suspect that he will, it would sound a lot like this. The Dierksache may not much resemble Tim Stafford’s high lonesome, but Through the Window of a Train finds this veteran bluegrass group crooning a self-penned set of traveling and soldier songs. Of this latter group, “Homeless Man” is a biting criticism of the post-war hardships faced by many soldiers while “Two Soldiers” is the gripping narrative of the men charged with notifying families of their loved ones’ deaths in combat. — Matt C.
Chris Cagle – My Life’s Been A Country Song
Chris Cagle’s fourth studio album, My Life’s Been A Country Song, is his first that doesn’t feature any of his own songs. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean those included are any better–as the songs from his own pen are at least on par if not superior. The album isn’t nearly as terrible as I make it sound–if you’re just looking for something to play in the background, but that seems to be all it aims for. My Life’s Been A Country Song is your standard filler fodder with some radio fodder and a whole bunch of cheap whoops and hollers, yeahs, talking, and incredibly annoying na na na naas. The only thing missing are the boo boos and the hoo hoos… umm… nevermind. — Brady Vercher
Andy Griggs – The Good Life
After parting ways with RCA and landing on indie label Montage Music, with a few years in between, I would expect Andy Griggs to come out and make an artistic statement with a strong set of songs on The Good Life. Unfortunately, the songs still feel too slick and lacking on a general level. The lead single, “Tattoo Rose,” is an ill-conceived, cliche ridden song that didn’t fare well on the charts. The follow up single, “What If It’s Me,” starts off on a better foot and finds Grigg’s wondering if it’s really himself that is to blame for the problems in his relationship. There are a few gems among the lot, namely “Tears and Time” and “Time Is A Gypsy.” Not coincidentally, they feature a stripped back production that accentuates Grigg’s vocals and aren’t as heavy on the guitar solos that drive a few too many of the songs. It’s a decent, if not solid, effort and is worth at least a listen. The album was released digitally, so you can grab it on iTunes, Rhapsody, or Amazon, and it’s slated for a physical release at a later date. — Brady Vercher
Arty Hill and The Long Gone Daddys – Bar of Gold
Arty Hill and The Long Gone Daddies album Bar of Gold is a solid, chunky Honky-Tonk Country record that flirts with rockabilly for a dance or two, but that at the end of the night still goes home with the classic country sound of Buck and George Jones. Think Commander Cody. Well, think of some folks aspiring to be Commander Cody anyway. Records like this sound like lost mid-level act records from an older period, you listen to them and think “oh wow, that’s so cool, but I can see why that one didn’t stand up through the ages.” It is so cool. This record is way cool if you’re someone like me who loves Commander Cody and who thinks that there is nothing hipper than the combination of George Jones/Buck Owens/Merle Haggard’s music with the sounds and feel of early rock and roll. Seriously, Little Richard meets Porter Waggoner, what’s radder than that? If that statement finds you nodding your head in agreement, buy this one, you’ll like it. If you still need convincing, skip this one, I don’t think it’s going to be the one to change your mind. — Ben Cisneros
Jim Lauderdale & The Dream Players – Honey Songs
Jim Lauderale is a modern day country music Renaissance Man, experimenting with bluegrass, country, and rock elements, while contributing his talents as a songwriter, vocalist, and musician. Is there anything he can’t do? Honey Songs leans country-rock and ranges in mood from the ridiculously delectable “Honey Suckle Honey Pie,” to the somber tones of “It’s Finally Sinking In.” Even when the lyrics aren’t immediately obvious, the contagious instrumental performances and stellar arrangements from The Dream Players are enticing enough to render the songs enjoyable. — Brady Vercher
Tift Merritt – Another Country
Much ado has been made about Tift Merritt’s distress after supporting her previous album and being dropped by her label, her move to Paris to rediscover herself, and her supposedly heroic return to music with Another Country. Call me an unrefined hillbilly, but the songs tend to bleed together with similar deliveries and only slight variations in pace, allowing you to forget the beginning of the songs before you reach the end. It’s not really a country album and a little too esoteric to be easily discernible, coming across more like self-pity poetry set to music, but I don’t think anyone has ever made depression sound so beautiful. — Brady Vercher
Allison Moorer – Mockingbird
Mockingbird is a collection of covers written by women and reinterpreted by Allison Moorer in which she attempts to bring a “true” feminine perspective to the performance, so it seems odd that she would bring in Buddy Miller to produce the estrogen dominated album. The June Carter Cash penned “Ring Of Fire” seems to be a reinterpretation for the sake of reinterpretation and the burning feeling gets lost somewhere in the process. The album is mostly quiet with a few beautiful performances, but nothing comes across as especially compelling. — Brady Vercher
Dolly Parton – Backwoods Barbie
Dolly’s return to mainstream country with Backwoods Barbie arrives with mixed results. The quality varies from song to song with some mainstream pandering, a couple of fantastic tracks, and a few hokey ones, but would we expect any less from Dolly, being the entertainer that she is? The covers of “Drives Me Crazy” and “The Tracks of My Tears” are disappointing and “Jesus and Gravity” has her singing about something lifting her up and holding her down. Her self-penned tracks fare better with a few standouts, including “Made of Stone” and “Only Dreamin’.” — Brady Vercher
Mando Saenz – Bucket
Mando has put together a friendly album here. Supposedly, when writing for this album, his focus was on crafting songs that would resonate well with a live audience, and since he’s a pop-rock inclined fellow to begin with, the result is a breezy, modern, Texas pop-rock album that’d make great background music for that moment when–while ordering your third cheap domestic beer at the bar–that beautiful girl sitting by the pool table flashes you a smile. It’d make good convertible driving music too. So if you find yourself in a record store, or shopping online, and want some chewy, non-threatening music, this one will fit the bill. Highlights of the album include “Seven Dollars” and “The Last Goodbye” if you want to mp3′em. — Ben Cisneros
Various Artists – How Great Thou Art: Gospel Favorites Live from the Grand Ole Opry
Soon-to-be Opry member Carrie Underwood belts out the title track on How Great Thou Art, the latest compilation from the Grand Ole Opry. There isn’t much new on this collection for the regular Opry listener, but those less familiar with the radio program are likely to be blown away by Ronnie Milsap’s timeless “Precious Lord, Take My Hand” and Vince Gill’s pining “Give Me Jesus.” Opry veterans are likely to find themselves wondering, after listening to Charlie Daniel’s odd take on “I’ll Fly Away” and Sara Evans’s lilting rendition of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” why one is an Opry member while the other is not. — Matt C.
Trent Willmon – Broken In
Trent Willmon’s third album, Broken In, finds him maturing since his previous efforts and sets the tone for some of the more realistic songs about country life, but the project suffers from a lack of focus and interspersed among the grains is your standard chaff. “Dry County” covers similar ground as Miranda Lambert’s “Dry Town,” but fails to deliver similar results. Among the more auspicious efforts are “Broken In,” “The Way I Remember It,” and “How A Cowboy Lives,” in which Willmon attempts to convey the cowboy character without the embellished romanticism that pervades the misrepresented cowboy mystique in today’s country music. Willmon’s image, which I believe to be wholly authentic, and his limited vocal talent don’t lend themselves well to continued mainstream country releases and I can’t help but feel he would create more compelling music by directing his efforts towards recording concept albums in a similar vein as Chris LeDoux. — Brady Vercher
Other Albums Released In February
Buzz Cason – Hats Off To Hank
With Hats Off To Hank, Buzz Cason delivers his own take on a few of his songs that fit somewhere between rock, country, and blues.
Paula Nelson – Lucky 13
Paula Nelson, the daughter of Willie Nelson, draws upon a range of material as inspiration for her new album, Lucky 13, that features ten writing credits of her own. Willie and her brother, Luke make an appearance on “Day to Day Love.”
Ray Stevens – Hurricane
Ray Stevens’ Hurricane is a collection of “twelve comedy songs that will blow you away” as the album cover art says.
Steve Dawson – Waiting For the Lights to Come Up
The first of two simultaneously recorded albums Steve Dawson is set to release this year, Waiting For The Lights To Come Up is a rootsy album with busy arrangements that mostly defies classification. It doesn’t quite fall into the country realm, so give it a pass if that’s what you’re looking for.