February ’08 Album Review Wrap-Up

Staff | March 18th, 2008

Blue Highway - Through the Window of a TrainBlue 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.

3.5 Stars

Chris Cagle - My LifeChris 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

2 Stars

Andy Griggs - The Good Life 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

3 Stars

Arty Hill and The Long Gone Daddys - Bar of GoldArty 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

3.5 Stars

Jim Lauderdale & The Dream Players - Honey SongsJim 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

4 Stars

Tift Merritt - Another CountryTift 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

1.5 Stars

Allison Moorer - MockingbirdAllison 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

2.5 Stars

Dolly Parton - Backwoods BarbieDolly 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

3 Stars

Mando Saenz - BucketMando 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

3 Stars

How Great Thou Art: Gospel Favorites Live from the Grand Ole OpryVarious 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.

2.5 Stars

Trent Willmon - Broken InTrent 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

3 Stars

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.

  1. June Malec
    March 18, 2008 at 11:23 am

    OMG, your so wrong about Crhis Cagle’s LP!!!! OMG, it’s like so fine. and sexy. I luvx it.

  2. Rick
    March 18, 2008 at 4:20 pm

    Brady, Thanks for saving me $ 8 and the drive to Best Buy to pick up Tift’s CD which is being released today. I really like the new song “Broken” but it sounds like that cut is a fluke. Tift’s debut “Bramble Rose” also suffered from the “every cut kinda sounds like every other cut” syndrome, so history is repeating itself here. If Tift wasn’t so darn cute and endowed with an ample bosom she never would have made it as far as she has…..

    I have Blue Highway’s classic “Still Climbimg Mountains” CD but its just too darn slick production wise. Technical perfection gets boring after awhile and bluegrass needs a bit of grit for authenticity..

    I used to be a huge Allison Moorer fan in her early days but lost interest after hr 3rd CD “Miss Fortune”. At that time she came out of the closet politically and was supporting Al Gore in ’04 and touting the wisdom of Michael Moore’s “Hey Dude, Where’s My Country”. Her first husband Doyle “Butch” Primm (the bearded bloke inside the house of Alison Krauss’ video for “New Favorite”) co-wote on many of her best songs. Personally I like the songs Butch co-wrote better than the stuff with her new hubby Steve Earle.

    Trent Willmon’s heart is a lot bigger than his talent pool and I agree that his trying to become a new “Lite” version of Chris LeDoux would suit him perfectly. He’s more than good enough for a drunken rodeo crowd…

  3. Hollerin' Ben
    March 18, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Rick my friend, instead of just saving $8 by not buying the Tift Merrit cd, you should consider using that $8 to buy one of the other cd’s we reviewed that sound more to your liking.

    just a thought.

  4. Brady Vercher
    March 18, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    Rick, is the Tift album just being put on the shelves at your Best Buy today? I believe it came out at the end of February.

    I’m not sure about the Blue Highway album since I didn’t get to give it a close listen, but I get the impression that they didn’t try to over produce this one. So, while it might only be a little better than average, I don’t know that it suffers from being too slick.

    The Allison Moorer album sounds like it has some Earle inspired arrangements that I didn’t particularly care for.

    I gave a few songs on the Arty Hill album a listen and was excited to find that they were pretty dang good, so I’m looking forward to checking the whole thing out.

  5. Matt B.
    March 19, 2008 at 5:33 am

    Brady, it was released February 26.

  6. Lori
    March 19, 2008 at 5:48 am

    I think Tift’s new album is really good! And brilliantly written. *shrug*

  7. Colt
    March 22, 2008 at 9:09 am

    You guys are tough graders.

  8. Jeremy Potts
    April 1, 2008 at 5:48 pm

    I agree totally with the review of ‘Honey Songs’. Jim Lauderdale epitomizes to me everything that’s great about country music and he manages to pump a seemingly never ending stream of great material that’s both intrinsically his and interpretable by other great artists (Gary Allan, George Strait, George Jones, etc.) as their own.
    His performance of ‘Honeysuckle Honey Pie’ on Conan a few weeks back was pretty sensational too.

  9. John
    April 5, 2008 at 10:56 pm

    With all due respect, I have to scratch my noggin’ about the reviewer’s opinion that Arty Hill’s CD sounds like Commander Cody. I get the feeling that he must have been on a 3 day Commander Cody kick wherin Doc Severinson would probably remind him of the Commander. I’ve listened to alot of CC and the Airmen and it just ain’t here folks!! Also, even though there is a rockin’ aspect to this disc, Little Richard also fails to make his presence felt. I can, however, see the Porter comparison. I highly recommend this one to fans of shuffle beat country.

  10. ccf
    April 7, 2008 at 11:11 am

    Thanks for the review of Arty Hill, I checked him out and got the cd.

  11. Stormy
    May 20, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Ben–You may want to rethink buying that Tift Merritt album as I would rate it as the best of her career and the best of her career and the best of the year to date. Far from being “self pitying poetry” its basically one long anthem of finding hope in hardship, from “The song I love the best’s the one my father taught to me,
    The kindness of a stranger is dust from an unseen wing” to “Sometimes you fall up these stairs, but it’s a long time ‘fore you know, No matter where my heart is now, there’s a long, long way to go.” I guess I can’t figure out how an album whose lead single contains the lines “and you don’t understand what is broken falls back into place out of kindness” is especially “self pitying.”

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