March ’08 Album Review Wrap-Up

Staff | April 9th, 2008

Carlene Carter - Stronger Carlene Carter – Stronger
Born the daughter of June Carter and Carl Smith and step-daughter to Johnny Cash made Carlene Carter an heir to a rich line of country music nobility, but that doesn’t mean you’ll finder her latest album dripping with steel guitars, fiddles, and hillbilly twang. Stronger is at times beautiful and poignant, but suffers from more polish than my admittedly archaic hillbilly sensibilities care to handle. Among the highlights is the stripped-down title track–a heartbreaking song that showcases her resiliency in the face of her baby sister’s passing–but even with all that is commendable about the song, Carter repeatedly bludgeons the listener with the trite line about “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” With all of it its accolades I wanted to like Stronger, but it’s hard to call it anything other than average. – Brody Vercher

2.5 Stars

Justin Townes Earle - The Good Life Justin Townes Earle – The Good Life
All and all, I feel like we get a good glimpse of who Justin Townes Earle is as an artist, but that the full picture is waiting for us somewhere in the future; which isn’t horrible, as it still leaves us something to look forward to. Earle flaunts plenty of strengths and abilities on this record though–a strong understanding of the rhythm of language, a strong voice that is conventionally pretty, and a talent with melody–and I wouldn’t want to leave you with the impression that all the good is left to come. – Ben Cisneros

4 Stars

Joe Ely & Joel Guzman - Live Cactus! Joe Ely & Joel Guzman – Live Cactus!
It’d be saddening to pass up something as sublime as Joe Ely & Joel Guzman’s Live Cactus! album solely because it’s off the highway of what mainstream considers country music. It’s like one of those uniquely obscure landmarks that are found when least expected–like peering over the edge of the Window, the point where all the drainage pours from the Chisos Basin in Big Bend National Park and one of, if not the most, beautiful views in Texas. Ely’s songs may not be for everyone, but they are as authentic as the land he calls home and his weathered voice blends naturally with the backing of his acoustic guitar and the transcendent accordion work of Joel Guzman. – Brody Vercher

4 Stars

Caroline Herring - Lantana Caroline Herring – Lantana
Caroline Herring isn’t aiming for CMT on this one, and she isn’t pulling any punches either. Lantana is something of a southern gothic record with modern femininity as its focus, and, lucky for us, Herring takes her songwriting effort as serious business. I’ve always been confused as to how women can listen to the “girl anthems” of modern mainstream country music without being offended by their sentiments, but Herring offers an extremely attractive alternative here; she explores her themes both expertly and beautifully, and never panders. The sounds are warm and tender, and for such an emotional album, never does it seem like Herring is overdoing it. All and all, Lantana is an insightful and touching record that is not only traditional, but also relevant, and it conveys nicely what a talent Caroline Herring is. – Ben Cisneros

3.5 Stars

Alan Jackson - Good Time Alan Jackson – Good Time
As a whole, Good Time shows that Jackson’s consistent production of quality material has only been enhanced by the period of artistic growth that preceded this record’s release. If there’s one criticism worth rising, it’s that, at seventeen tracks, Good Time seems bloated alongside the trim albums country music typically produces. The album’s impact would have benefited from some judicious editing. – Adam Tamburin

3.5 Stars

Zane Lewis - Zane Lewis Zane Lewis – Zane Lewis
Zane Lewis’ self titled sophomore release is a southern rock romper that he likes to describe as “fuel-injected country.” After my review of “Come With Me,” Lewis emailed me and seemed like a pleasant enough guy, but I mentioned to him that I’d like to hear something fresh and distinctive that would be identifiable when compared to other artists. For the most part, that complaint rings true as the album lacks in originality and quality songs. The opening track, “Welcome To The Southland” epitomizes everything wrong with country music and does nothing to distinguish itself from any other mediocre southern rock songs. To be fair, one of Lewis’ co-writes with Jamie Richards, “Fly,” is among the better songs on the album, but the rest of them just aren’t gettin’ it done. – Brady Vercher

1.5 Stars

Modern Day Drifters - The Highway Is My HomeModern Day Drifters – The Highway Is My Home
With her soulful allure Kristen Kelly and band co-founder Joe Churchill lead the Modern Day Drifters to a solid, albeit sometimes confusing, debut release. Kelly kicks the album off with “Down In Flames,” a song she co-wrote with Red Dirt mainstays Stoney LaRue and Brandon Jenkins. Lead guitarist Joe Churchill takes over vocals for the second track, “Small Town Way,” and this pattern of trading off continues for the remainder of the album, lending an air of disjointedness to the project. If the band can maintain a consistent image they have incredible potential, highlighted by Kristen’s killer rendition of John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery.” – Brody Vercher

3 Stars

Tim O Tim O’Brien – Chameleon
What does a supremely talented artist do for fun? He writes and records a bunch of songs that feature himself in just about every capacity, vocals to songwriting to playing every audible instrument. Such is the case with Tim O’Brien’s latest album, Chameleon. It’s a veritable melting pot of sixteen songs ranging from silly to poignant to slightly political, all of them well crafted. They draw from a myriad of musical styles that make it hard to peg the album to one genre, so folksy acoustic country is as good as any. It’s very much a personal project, so the vocals aren’t overly polished, but it only lends to the distinguishing character of the album. Be sure to check out “Where’s Love Come From,” “Chameleon,” and “The Only Way To Never Hurt,” although it wouldn’t hurt to check the whole thing out. – Brady Vercher

4 Stars

Ashton Shepherd - Sounds So Good Ashton Shepherd – Sounds So Good
During her first performance [at the Grand Ole Opry], Little Jimmy Dickens remarked to onlookers in the wings, “that girl has never heard a pop song in her life,” while at the night’s second show, host Bill Anderson shared Buddy Cannon’s observations that “this girl’s so country she makes Loretta Lynn sound like she’s from Liverpool.” To Ashton’s credit, her debut album doesn’t attempt to validate those observations. It’s not a statement for traditional country music, and it’s not devoid of Nashville tricks and polish. Rather, it’s an album by a woman who’s from the country and is singing what she knows about, and it Sounds So Good. – Matt C.

4 Stars

Trent Wagler & Jay Lapp - Adrienna Valentine Trent Wagler & Jay Lapp — Adrienna Valentine
In a world of good singers, good musicians, and good songs, Trent Wagler is an exceptional singer, Jay Lapp is an exceptional musician/producer, and Adrienna Valentine is an exceptional album. It’s foundation is in bluegrass, but to my ears it’s entirely new. As soon as Trent Wagler’s voice jumps in on the first track “Darlin’ Cory”, you know that something different is happening. The vocal throughout is well done technically, but more importantly, Wagler knows not to make this album an exhibition of his vocal prowess; he performs the songs and tells the stories he needs to tell while doing it. Speaking of songs, Adrienna Valentine is comprised entirely of good ones, and even has a few great ones, such as the title track, which is a country waltz that’s devastatingly beautiful. It’s language is new, it’s story is old, and when Wagler delivers the lyric “The loneliest I’ve ever been/is when the news came down/Adrienna Valentine/will wear a wedding gown” he sets this album apart. I don’t know enough about bluegrass/old time music to say much more, but what I can say is that I don’t think this album would disappoint anyone, and I’d venture to guess that Trent and Jay will be forces to be reckoned with for a while. – Ben Cisneros

4 Stars

Billy Yates - That Billy Yates – That’s Why I Run
If you’ve ever wondered what Brooks & Dunn might sound like with better material, crank up “Like a Radio” or “A Man Who Knows” on Billy Yates newest release. The voices are easily distinguishable, but their stylistic phrasing is eerily reminiscent of each other, and it might do the duo well to record a song or two from That’s Why I Run. Yates has had numerous cuts as a songwriter, including four from The Possum himself, and those songwriting chops shine throughout the album. Based on the cowboy lifestyle influence on “There When He Falls,” the Roger Milleresque “a diddle do do do” on “Happy,” and the wailing steel on “Under Your Bed” it’s easy to see where his heart lies when it comes to country music. – Brody Vercher

4 Stars

Other Albums Released In March

Bart Crow Band – Desperate Hearts
Texas Music Times: “The CD is bound to take the Bart Crow Band to another level with their brand of country rock…”

Chatham County Line – IV
Pitchfork: “IV is the most rewarding offering from Chatham County Line to date.”

Kathleen Edwards – Asking For Flowers
Slant Magazine: “A unique, engaging voice in an increasingly tired genre…”

Jimmy Gaudreau – 2:10 Train
The Bluegrass Blog: “Each [track] receives a treatment that is fresh and perfectly in keeping with the minimalist approach on this CD.”

Lili Haydn – Place Between Places
AlgoRhythms: “A record like this hasn’t come along in … well, maybe since her last one.”

Amanda Lynn – Made In Dixie
This is the Georgia native’s debut album.

Mindy McCready – All For You
About.com: “Her hard work is obvious and she has a lot to be proud of with this new CD.”

Ricky Skaggs – Honoring the Fathers of Bluegrass: Tribute to 1946 and 1947
Tuscon Citizen: “The 12-song set strikes a proper balance between reverent tribute and good fun.”

  1. Rick
    April 9, 2008 at 10:38 am

    I purchased Ashton Shepherd’s CD and have been enjoying her vocal style a great deal. The production is too Nashville slick on some songs for such a rootsy artist, but I’m just glad the CD was released at all. Ashton will be back on the Opry on April 26th.

    Billy Yates is a great songwriter with a decent voice. Billy gave up on the mainstream Nashville scene years ago and opened his own label to cater primarily to his fans in Europe and Japan. He may not be getting rich, but he’s still making fine music that is unquestionably “country”. If I were to buy one CD off this list (apart from Ashton’s), Billy’s would be the pick of the litter.

    PS – Jypsi’s debut album is now available for download and will come out on CD in late May. How about a review guys?

  2. Lanibug
    April 9, 2008 at 11:55 am

    FYI – Ashton’s album is available on itunes for $6.99 —

    I would also be interested in a review of the Jypsi album – was not a fan of the first song released but kind of like the second….

  3. mr.sandy
    April 9, 2008 at 4:12 pm

    I agree on the Carlene review. I sooo wanted to like this CD. Her voice is still great, but it is just too overproduced. Which has happened before when she’s teamed with John McFee (see “Too Proud” from the otherwise excellent Musical Shapes LP).

  4. Chip
    April 9, 2008 at 10:27 pm

    I actually liked the Carlene Carter. I don’t disagree that it is a bit overproduced. However, her voice is surprisingly still very good and I thought it had good variety.

    You guys turned me on to Ashton and I an so glad. She is a great and an Alabama girl too.

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