Staff Picks for July/August 2009

Staff | September 11th, 2009

Juli Thanki

The Quintessential Hank Thompson 1948-1979 by Hank Thompson

hank-thompson-pickNew releases from George Strait and Reba McEntire received the lion’s share of attention this cycle, which means a couple excellent albums slipped under the radar. Gene Watson returned with A Taste of the Truth, which, in my opinion, is one of the best albums of the year. The record features a lovely guest appearance from Rhonda Vincent on the heartbreaking “Staying Together;” if money’s too tight to buy the entire album, at least buy that song. One of my alt-country favorites, Paul Burch, released Still Your Man, which has been getting heavy rotation at Casa Juli. But I’ve gotten the most bang out of my buck with this Hank Thompson compilation from Australian label Raven. It’s one disc and 30 of his best known songs, including “Six Pack to Go,” “Oklahoma Hills,” and, of course, “Wild Side of Life.” Priced at $18, it’s a damn good deal, and a fine addition to any car stereo.

Karlie Justus

A Taste of the Truth by Gene Watson

gene-watson-pickUntil recently, I’d yet to tackle the majority of the Gene Watson catalog beyond the requisite “Farewell Party,” “Fourteen Carat Mind” and “Love in the Hot Afternoon.” His latest release, Taste of the Truth, however, reignited my interest in the famous balladeer and prompted a slew of tear-in-my-beer additions to my musical collection. This album finds Watson doing what he does best, particularly on cuts such as “‘Till A Better Memory Comes Along” and “Staying Together,” a near-perfect duet with bluegrass darling Rhonda Vincent. Although the title track feels sluggish, my favorite is “Three Minutes at a Time,” a full-circle song that finds Watson drowning his sorrows in a traditional country tearjerker infamously (and ironically) known for its power to mend a heartache—precisely the type of tune the country legend has recorded for the last four decades.

Brady Vercher

A Taste of the Truth by Gene Watson

gene-watson-pickGene Watson is the easy pick this cycle, but that doesn’t take anything away from releases by the likes of Grant Langston, The Lovell Sisters, or a few others I didn’t get a chance to listen to; Watson is just too good to pass up. “We’ve Got a Pulse,” a duet with Trace Adkins, is an answer song of sorts to “Murder On Music Row,” but “Three Minutes At a Time,” a song about heartache, works surprisingly well for the pessimists amongst us. Whatever the case, if you like country music, you’ll like A Taste of the Truth.

CM Wilcox

A Taste of the Truth by Gene Watson

gene-watson-pickThe fresh-faced youngsters of Gloriana and Love and Theft (who both released albums during the eligibility period) probably haven’t heard of Gene Watson, but he could sure enough out-sing them. Watson’s musical vision hasn’t changed much since his 1975 Capitol debut; he’s still a soul brother with an affinity for miserably sad country ballads, and he’s still in possession of one of the finest voices the genre has ever known. With A Taste of the Truth, Watson has assembled his strongest and saddest set of (mostly) new material this millennium. “’Till a Better Memory Comes Along,” “Three Minutes at a Time,” “Use Me Again” and the Rebecca Lynn Howard-penned title track particularly shine.

Kelly Dearmore

Together Again by Deryl Dodd

deryl-dodd-pickA love letter to not only the past, but to his past. Dodd constructs an album full of country gold that never sounds dated, yet feels timeless.

Ken Morton, Jr.

Place To Turn Around by Wade Hayes

wade-hayes-pickI’d like laud two very strong freshman entries by Sarah Darling and David Nail, but my pick this month goes to an artist who has been off the radar but who has made an incredible indie album. On songs like “Every Time I Give The Devil A Ride” and “Good Day To Go Crazy,” we’re reminded what a great guitarist and underrated instrumentalist Hayes has is. The beautiful acoustic production of Place To Turn Around is fantastic, my favorite piece being the haunting mandolin “singing” harmony on the title track. Each song is well-written and some even pull heartstrings, like the terrific pleading lyrics for God to perform a healing miracle on “What’s A Broken Heart For You.”

Pierce Greenberg

Twang by George Strait

twang-pickI hate to be the unoriginal one, but there is no denying King George. Strait has nothing left to prove, but he keeps churning out album gems. Save for “The Breath You Take,” Twang has some of the strongest material of Strait’s career. The standard heartbreaks (“Beautiful Day for Goodbye,” “Easy as You Go”) and sentimentality (“He’s Got That Something Special”) are there, but Strait mixes things up by making the younger generation Google terms like “Zydeco” and “El Rey.” At age 57, Strait is showing no signs of slowing down—and let’s hope it stays that way.

Sam Gazdziak

Somewhere Beyond The Roses by Kieran Kane

kane-pickA band consisting of a banjo, saxophone, electric guitar and minimal percussion isn’t exactly easy to categorize–not that it would matter to Kane, who’s released his latest solo album after a string of releases with Kevin Welch and Fats Kaplin. The title track has a bluegrass feel, albeit with a sax in the background. Others, like “Way Down Below,” are more bluesy, though with a banjo front and center. “More To It Than This,” taken from a conversation with Merle Haggard, takes all the shine off of the professional musician’s life and is one of the best and most brutal songs I’ve heard about music as a business. “Unfaithful Heart,” featuring steel guitar from Kaplin, should be a chart-topper and deserves to be picked up by a daring mainstream artist.

Jim Malec

Play Time by Brady Seals

brady-seals-play-timeThe lyrical brilliance of “My Love” not withstanding, Little Texas may be one of modern country music’s most underrated acts. After all, we are nearing twenty years since the band’s debut, and a fair chunk of its catalog remains radio relevant and sounds as good today as it did back in the early 90s. That staying power is due, in large part, to the musical sensibilities of its founders, one of whom is Brady Seals. Play Time, Seals’ latest independent effort–and his first since 2004′s Thompson Square–is a full-on party record (containing not a single ballad), and I didn’t expect to like it. But lead single “Ho Down” caught me off guard with its equally obvious and gutsy humor, and this splendidly written little album snuck up on me. The jokes are funny, the scenes are tangible and the lack of pretense is refreshing. Play Time will never amount to more than a tiny blip on the country music radar, but it’s still a highly enjoyable record that will almost certainly exceed your expectations.

  1. Andrew
    September 11, 2009 at 11:05 am

    Mac McAnally’s Down By The River is also a good option from this time frame.

  2. sean
    September 11, 2009 at 11:15 am

    What’s so wrong with Reba’s album being in the news? She is, afterall, the Queen of Country. I’ve never heard of these people on this list but *everyone* knows who Reba is.

  3. Taylor McAffe
    September 11, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Wat abt carrie underwood?!?!? Cowboy Casanova! or taylor swift. she rulz.

  4. Noeller
    September 11, 2009 at 11:29 am

    I think I’m going to head on over to ITunes and track down the Brady Seals and Wade Hayes efforts. Thanks for the heads up gentlemen!

  5. Brady Vercher
    September 11, 2009 at 11:33 am

    The artwork for that Brady Seals album is bizarre and from your description, Jim, it doesn’t sound like it’s representative of the music at all. The rabbit actually reminds me of Donnie Darko, which probably isn’t a good thing.

  6. Leeann Ward
    September 11, 2009 at 11:46 am

    The Kane album sounds really interesting.

    I was surprised by the Brady Seals pick, but I didn’t like the lead single at all. I suppose I should give it an honest try though…

  7. Matt B.
    September 11, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    GASP! Jim and I agree on a record?

  8. John P
    September 11, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    Your team has good ears. I just bought the new Gene Watson CD and couldn’t agree with you more. It’s one of the best of the year albums so far. The man’s voice is what is missing from today’s country music. Real emotion. Great songs and fine musicianship in the music from fiddle to steel. This is the kind of music that seems missing today.

  9. Tom
    September 11, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    the new wade hayes album – if nothing else, an absolutely terrific blip on the country radar screen.

  10. Clemson Brad
    September 11, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    The new Brady Seals album is FANTASTIC! Just simply a very fun album….won’t win awards, but every song is very unique, and I really like his voice. Try out the last track, “Hands Down Farmer Brown” as one of my personal favorites

  11. Rick
    September 11, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    Come on you guys (and gals), please include at least two or three honorable mentions like Juli and Ken did to alert us to a wider list of worthy albums. Well, except for Kelly maybe…(lol)

    How does the new Gene Watson disc compare to 1989′s “Back In The Fire”, which I consider a standout effort? Hmm…

    PS – You should let Jon participate in these lists to keep us up to date in the bluegrass realm! If you can’t beat him, let him join you!

  12. Jenny Shimizu
    September 11, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    I must say, he’s somewhat kinda mainstream, but Jack Ingram’s latest effort is fantastic. He barely sold a respectable amount these last two weeks despite two top 10 singles from the album. What a shame, this guy really deserves to break out into the national scene more…until then I’m content having him be a well-known but under-appreciated gem of an artist.

  13. Rick
    September 11, 2009 at 8:30 pm

    I just noticed Brody isn’t included as a contributor in the list! What’s up with that? Also, no mention of Guy Clark or did his album come out this month? I get so confused.

    I’d really like to hear that Hank Thompson CD…

  14. Brady Vercher
    September 11, 2009 at 8:34 pm

    I threw in a couple of alternates, but none of them are really the same style. Brody was busy. And Guy Clark is a September release, but it’s gonna face some pretty stiff competition. This month is loaded with some stellar albums.

  15. Kelly
    September 11, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    Rick – I know you mean well, but come on man. It’s a relatively simple column where we were asked to recommend one album and explain why we liked it. it isnt intended to be a peice where each of us look to inform the masses about dozens of releases. Were also not looking to “represent” a rainbow of styles and genres. It is what it is, bro.

  16. Paul W Dennis
    September 11, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    The Gene Watson album would have been my pick for best album of the month (and of the year 2009) BUT there were two other very good albums I’ve heard lately:

    John Fogarty & The Blue Ridge Rangers – Rides Again. Like the original Blue Ridge Rangers (which came out about 35 years ago) this album is about half country classic and half R&R or R&B classics all done with hard-core country arrangements. Where this differs from the earlier effort, where Fogarty played all of the instruments, this time he got a “Who’s Who” of country pickers to serve as the Blue Ridge Rangers – and it shows

    A pleasant, out of left field, surprise was a sampler issued by Hillside , a south Florida indy label. Titled HILLSIDE RECORDS COUNTRY SONG ROUNDUP, this CD has 21 new tracks by long-forgotten artists such as Kenny Seratt, Ray Sanders, Jerry Inman, Curtis Potter and Darrell McCall along with a few tracks by current Texas superstar Justin Trevino. I much prefer single-artist albums but this one is great beyond description

  17. Leeann Ward
    September 12, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    I agree that the Fogerty album is excellent. Dare I say that I think it exceeds the Watson disc?

  18. Drew
    September 12, 2009 at 9:31 pm

    Is the James Hand album Aug or Sept? That definitely needs to be mentioned if it qualifies.

    I’ll have to listen to that new Gene Watson album, as I’ve heard nothing but good things.

  19. CMW
    September 12, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    James Hand is September, as are Kris Kristofferson, Guy Clark, Patty Loveless… I’m guessing staff picks next month will be all over the map.

    To be honest, I forgot that the John Fogerty was eligible for this edition (August 31). That certainly would have made my own choice more difficult, but I’m pretty sure Watson still would have come out ahead. The Blue Ridge Rangers Rides Again is truly a great album, though. It would be my second pick.

  20. Paul W Dennis
    September 13, 2009 at 9:50 am

    Juli – the Hank Thompson album is great but I hadn’t seen it (and would not have bought it since I already have EVERYTHING Hank recorded on Capitol and most of his post-Capitol stuff) but if one needs a introduction to Hank Thompson this collection is the Ace of Spades.

    Anyone who likes George Strait should like Hank Thompson. After all, George is a big Hank Thompson fan and made one of his few guest appearences on one of Hank’s albums

  21. Rick
    September 13, 2009 at 10:32 am

    Just a note: James Hand will be hosting the Ernest Tubb Record Shop Midnite Jamboree a month from now along with special guest Heather Myles on October 10th. Thought some of you would like to know!

  22. Juli
    September 13, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Thanks, Paul! I’m a broke young’un, so that’s who I geared this month’s recommendation towards ;-)

    I’ve spent the past 6 months or so trying to track down the Hank Thompson Bear Family 12 CD box set, but it’s out of print and currently running $600 used, so this’ll have to do for now.

    Thanks for the James Hand info, Rick. Hand and Myles should make for an excellent show!

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