There was a ton of country music released in February, a great deal of which never found its way onto the pages of The 9513. Here are abbreviated album reviews of last month’s under-the-radar music.
- Lightning From The North – .357 String Band
The third release from this scrappy Milwaukee quartet is bursting at the seams with the breakneck string band music that they’ve termed “streetgrass.” Frontman Derek Dunn’s whiskey raw voice leads the band through some Scruggs-meets-Strummer tunes like “Darkness in My Soul” and “Half Tank of Gas, Full Tank of Lies.” No happy endings here: “…All the World Turns Gray,” a tale of unrequited love begins sweetly, with Dunn proclaiming “All the world turns black/Whenever you go away/And I need to find a spark/To light my lonely way,” then ends with a murder and subsequent haunting. Dig Split Lip Rayfield or the Pine Box Boys? Pick this one up. — Juli Thanki
- Hustler’s Son – Jason Boesel
Okay, technically this is a January album, but we’re including it anyway. Jason Boesel, a member of indie darlings Rilo Kiley, steps out from behind his drum kit for this strong solo debut. Fellow Rilo Kiley member Blake Sennett, David Rawlings, and Benmont Tench are among the collaborators as Boesel channels ’70s Californian country-rock, throwing in some Americana and indie pop for good measure. Though it’s at heart a California record, namechecking sunny locales like Santa Barbara and West Palm Beach, the tone of Hustler’s Son doesn’t exactly match up. With melodic, midtempo songs like “Miracles,” which finds Boesel singing “Well, we all believe in miracles/But who wants to wait around?/The evidence is empirical/The ship is going down,” this is an album best suited for a lonely, rainy night (or morning, we won’t judge) spent curled up with bourbon and vinyl. — Juli Thanki
- Sarah Buxton – Sarah Buxton
The wait for Sarah Buxton is finally over. Nearly five years after signing with Lyric Street Records, her self-titled album has finally arrived. What distinguishes Buxton from the me-too attitude that pervades Music Row is a unique voice that, while not perfect, is distinctive and represents her free-spirited nature and song choice. The songs represent themes that Buxton has lived since signing that record deal; they’re full of ups and downs and loves lost and gained. The current radio hit “Outside My Window” is undeniably catchy, while “American Daughters” and “For Real” do a decent job defining a bit of who Sarah Buxton is while still remaining cloaked in a radio-friendly shell. “Radio Love” displays her talent for witty lyrical prose. A highlight is “Space,” a great little song the begins with whispering vocals as soft and tender as a kiss–right before she gives you the kiss-off. It’s a very solid first album from an artist that really stands out from the masses with a sound that is distinctive and uniquely hers—and one with an ample amount of personality. — Ken Morton, Jr.
- Dailey and Vincent Sing the Statler Brothers – Dailey & Vincent
Cracker Barrel is an entity that has made millions of dollars on marketing nostalgia—a simpler, easier time when the biscuits were fluffy and the music was good. And while the chicken and dumplings can be hit-or-miss, Cracker Barrel nails the music part with Dailey & Vincent Sing The Statler Brothers. This Statler Brothers tribute—available only at Cracker Barrel—is simply another consistent, enjoyable effort from a group that has produced four albums in the past two years.
Statler Brothers hits like “Flowers On The Wall” and “Too Much On My Heart” seamlessly flow into the bluegrass realm with Dailey & Vincent’s help. They play it pretty close to the vest for the most part, never taking any big risks, but with the combination of good songs and outstanding musicians, no risk is needed.
It’s also important to note the title of the album and the key word Sings. Dailey & Vincent seem to step aside from the rip-roarin’ solos and breakdowns, but they nail the rich harmonies that bring the old Statler Bros’ tunes back to life. The YouTube video made in 2007 was an early indicator—the Statler Brothers and Dailey & Vincent go together like bacon and grits. — Pierce Greenberg
- This Crazy Life – Eleven Hundred Springs
Eleven Hundred Springs makes the sort of music that begs to be hyphenated, an idiosyncratic mishmash of honky tonk, country rock, rockabilly, and Western swing that stomps to an Outlaw beat and incorporates Tejano accordion. This Crazy Life showcases more of the forward-looking traditionalism that has made them a mainstay on the Texas honky tonk scene for the past decade. Case in point: In one three-song stretch, they humorously mourn the passing of time through the eyes of an aging (wannabe?) gangster on “The OG Blues,” echo Kitty Wells against a Waylonesque beat on “Honky Tonk Angels (Don’t Happen Overnight),” and dig into some lilting Western blues on “I’m In a Mellow Mood.” Such eclecticism might distract if all the other pieces weren’t in place, but they are, resulting in a classic-sounding album that’s distinctly Eleven Hundred Springs in its fusion of elements. By the time the band wraps up with “Straight to Bed,” a California country-rock come-on with Southwestern panache, you’ll be thoroughly won over. Eleven Hundred Springs is one of the freshest things happening in country music today, and This Crazy Life is one of the first great albums of 2010. — CM Wilcox
- Celebrating With Friends – Johnny Gimble
Former Texas Playboy Johnny Gimble’s got some good friends. Okay, they might not help him move or bail him out of prison, but they’re mighty fine musicians. Here the octogenarian and a bunch of pals he’s recorded with throughout the years (and some he hasn’t) team up for a collection of near-flawless Western swing and a few reflections on his career. Granddaughter Emily Gimble (of the Marshall Ford Swing Band) is a wonderful surprise, contributing smoky vocals on jazz standard “If I Had You,” while Willie Nelson tackles the Gershwin tune “Lady Be Good.” Vince Gill gets the honor of singing with Gimble on the song he co-wrote with Bob Wills, “Somewhere South of San Antone.” Though he’s got an all-star roster of guests, Gimble also takes his time in the spotlight on instrumentals “Rural Riffin’” and “Mandelopin’.”
Johnny Gimble’s a living legend and an incredible musician. This one’s a must-listen. — Juli Thanki
- Darkness Sure Becomes This City – Joy Kills Sorrow
After two years and a handful of lineup changes, the bluegrass-influenced acoustic band Joy Kills Sorrow has released its sophomore album. Emma Beaton’s angelic vocals lead the quintet through a collection of songs whose lyrics occasionally tread a little too close to emo, but are otherwise highly listenable. The songwriting duties are largely divided between Beaton and bassist Bridget Kearney, though it’s Uncle Earl’s Kristen Andreassen who penned one of the album’s strongest tracks, the banjo-driven “Send Me a Letter.” Another highlight is “You Make Me Feel Drunk,” which finds Beaton describing the heady feelings of new love: “I’m tipsy without drinkin’/I’m fallin’ without thinkin’ straight/I can’t even stand up.” Fans of Crooked Still are strongly advised to give these folks a listen. — Juli Thanki
- Buckaroo Blue Grass II: Riding Song – Michael Martin Murphey
Building on last year’s Buckaroo Bluegrass, Murphey once again gives his cowboy songs the acoustic treatment. A topnotch lineup of guests, including Charlie Cushman, Ronnie McCoury, Audie Blaylock, and Andy Leftwich are an excellent companion to Murphey’s pure, immediately recognizable voice. His best known song, “Wildfire,” is stripped of its ’70s cheese and transformed into a beautiful duet with Carrie Hassler. A cover of “Running Gun” is the album’s penultimate track. Though it’s not a Murphey song, the captivating story of an outlaw who finally meets his match fits seamlessly into this collection. There may be a dearth of cowboy and Western songs in country music these days, but Buckaroo Bluegrass II more than compensates for this lack. — Juli Thanki
- Caffeine & Gasoline – Elliot Randall & The Deadmen
Need an album for a springtime roadtrip? Look no further. Backed by the three-piece Deadmen (James DePrato, Danilo Lopez, and Kyle Caprista), Randall—don’t confuse him with the “Reelin’ in the Years” guitarist Elliott Randall—delivers a rockin’ collection of Americana tales about the beat up, broken down, and heartsick. Overall, it’s a strong album with well-written songs, even if a couple of them run together. Although ballad “Trying Again” drags despite its well-written lyrics, “Chasing My Tail” is a hooky piece of roots pop that easily could have been found on a Gin Blossoms album 15 years ago. Keep an eye (and an ear) on these guys; they’ve got a bright future. — Juli Thanki
- Somewhere In Time – Reckless Kelly
It’s probably true that Reckless Kelly’s loving tribute to Pinto Bennett and his Famous Motel Cowboys doesn’t show off either party to greatest effect: the rocking Reckless boys seem a bit confined by Bennett’s honky tonk structures, and Bennett’s lyrically intricate compositions don’t have much space to unravel in these rocked-up arrangements. Somewhere In Time fares best when it plays up the familial element. Little brother Micky Braun (of Micky & the Motorcars) joins Willy for a loose romp through “I Hold the Bottle, You Hold the Wheel,” big brother Cody Braun takes a winning turn at the mic for the well-intentioned “I’ve Done Everything I Could Do Wrong,” and Willy duets with musical forefathers Joe Ely and Bennett himself on other album highlights. On the whole, it’s a pretty good Reckless Kelly album, but a better tribute album: It will make you want to check out the source material (much of which is available from CD Baby) for yourself. So, in that respect, mission accomplished. — CM Wilcox
- As He Wanders… – The Texas Sapphires
Maybe it’s the heat, the flat, or the peppers, but in the Lone Star State, the lines separating country from other styles are as blurry as a mirage on the horizon. Before they formed one of Austin’s best new country acts, the members of the Texas Sapphires didn’t have what you might call the obvious country pedigree: Billy Brent Malkus was a veteran of Baltimore punk acts and is related by band to Dwarves and Queens of the Stone Age, and Rebecca Lucille Cannon is best known locally as the singer for 90s alternative act Sincola. But As He Wanders…, their debut as the Texas Sapphires, draws liberally from 60s and 70s AM influences in a dozen songs that sparkle persuasively with real wit and heartache. On “Stunt Double,” Malkus rambles off such a great country metaphor that I was surprised it hadn’t been used before, and he makes his own drunken, lonesome self the butt of the joke on the upbeat “How Did I Get So Sloppy Drunk (When I Was a Drinkin’ Neat).” By contrast, Cannon has a dusky voice that breaks forlornly on “Teardrops or Rain” and the stand-out “Spirits,” which gives their rambunctious country a healthy shot of soul. — Stephen M. Deusner
- I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart – Butch Walker
Borrowing as much from acts like Tom Petty and Steve Miller as it does from any country-tinged Nashville sound, the album is equal parts quirky and smart. The indie alternative country rocker’s fifth solo outing is filled with his trademark dry sense of humor balanced out with tales of damaged personalities and human insecurities. It’s an acquired taste, perhaps one that takes more than one listen. “She Likes Hair Bands” is a smile inducing affair, the well-written “Pretty Melody” is great for its string arrangement alone and “Shouldn’t Somebody Take You Home” is a great nod to traditional country ballads. Each song has a twist on a different lyrical tactic, crossing genres and styles effortlessly. More importantly, it works. The album isn’t perfect, but it is a quirky, different, fun experience that’s worth a listen. — Ken Morton, Jr.