Staff Picks for June 2009
Modern Sounds in Country… by Ray Charles
June was an excellent month for the entire country music spectrum. In addition to damn good albums from Charlie Robison, Sarah Jarosz, Holly Williams, and Levon Helm, Todd Snider and Brad Paisley also released worthy efforts. If classic country is your thing, June saw the release of George Jones’ Complete Musicor Recordings 1965-1971. For my money, the best release of this past month was Ray Charles’ Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Vol. 1 and 2. The 24 remastered tracks are a fine display not only of Charles’ sheer talent, but the inherent beauty in the songs he chose to cover. Running the gamut of emotion from the good time boogie of “Hey Good Lookin'” to Charles’ tortured take on “Making Believe,” Modern Sounds is nothing less than a masterpiece. Shame on you if this is an album you’ve neglected–after all, it’s been out forty-plus years.
The Rock by Tracy Lawrence
Brad Paisley and Holly Williams both deserve the praise they’ve received for their June releases, but I have to give my endorsement to an album that has largely flown under the radar. As someone who takes my faith seriously and loves a good Christian country song, I fall squarely in the target audience for Tracy Lawrence’s new album. It wasn’t too long ago that almost every country artist recorded a gospel album after they were well established in the industry, and by putting together a string of enjoyable tunes with an uplifting religious themes that don’t get too preachy, The Rock successfully hearkens back to those days without being stale.
Roadhouse Sun by Ryan Bingham
As an album, it’s a little schizophrenic, bouncing from rock to Byrds-esque Dylan tributes to bluegrass-tinged numbers to Steve Earle Copperhead Road-era rockers. But taken as a bunch of individual songs, there’s an awful lot to like about Roadhouse Sun. Bingham’s voice is an acquired taste (think a hoarser, more pissed-off Hayes Carll), but songs like “Dylan’s Hard Rain,” “Roadhouse Blues” and “Tell My Mother I Miss Her So” pretty much require world-weary and ragged vocals. The political songs like “Endless Ways” may not be all that timely, considering the object of his ire is out of the White House and likely
clearing brush at his Texas ranch relaxing at his Dallas estate as you read this, but they’ll still sound good coming from the CD player of your hybrid car (you know, the one with the Obama/Biden bumper stickers on the back).
Beautiful Day by Charlie Robison
Artistic excellence doesn’t necessarily translate to replayability. We can, after all, appreciate the literary, musical and creative accomplishments of a particular work without being especially drawn to that work. Beautiful Day is one of the rare albums that is effective to both of these ends, a hearty social commentary wrapped up in an unusually smooth and digestible Americana casing. Robison’s voice has never sounded better, and although this album doesn’t aim as high as the requisite disc Life of the Party it is altogether more personal.
Ken Morton Jr.
The Rock by Tracy Lawrence
A passionate, powerful and moving tribute to his parents, heaven and his listeners. It would be easy to think of this as a side project or niche album (as a result of its theme). It isn’t at all. Tracy has always had a neoclassical take on honky-tonk country music, sounding more today like traditional country than much of what is played on radio. Despite its religious bend, this album is no different. Each cut speaks of character, faith, truth, hope, forgiveness and belief, all delivered with the same warm voice and tender approach that Lawrence is known for.
Murdering Oscar (And Other Love Songs) by Patterson Hood
Even without the cool, cigarrette-smoking presence of Mike Cooley or the sultry drawl of the recently empowered Shonna Tucker, Hood’s album swaggers with the blood, grit and whiskey-soaked poetry of DBT’s better efforts (the title track wouldve been a nice book-end to Hood’s “The Man I Shot” from The DBT’s 2008 album, Brighter Than Creation’s Dark). Using a crack-band of Hood’s buddies from years of touring, Murdering Oscar isn’t as much Southern Rock as it just simply Rockin’.
Beautiful Day by Charlie Robison
There were a lot of worthy records last month, but Charlie Robison’s ended up capturing the bulk of my time. It took a spin or two to fully get into it; Robison’s trademark wry sense of humor seemed to be missing, but it’s still intact, just a little more subtle this go around. The songs mostly run through the gamut of emotions one would expect from a “divorce record” and are remarkably cohesive throughout without ever feeling bleak. It’s a superb effort from beginning to end.
- Leeann Ward: Sheesh, Paul, that's a random/strange dig!
- Jack Williams: After reading that New Yorker article, I canceled my pre-order of the Basement Tapes box set. I love Bob …
- Leeann Ward: Wow! How terrible for Dixie Hall and Tom.
- Ken Morton, Jr.: Another twisted collection of songs to put into the Friday Five Hall of Fame, Juli.
- Arlene: I'd have included "Omie Wise." Doc Watson's is the version I'm familiar with but I think it's been recorded by …
- luckyoldsun: I think the number one country murder ballad is "Frankie and Johnny"--by Jimmie. Also, how about "Delia's Gone" from Harry Belafonte …
- Juli Thanki: Colloquial use of "fantastic" as a synonym for "excellent" dates back to the 1930s. And if it's good enough for …
- Paul W Dennis: I think "Banks of The Ohio", "Miller's Cave" and "It's Nothing to Me" are far creepier than several of the …
- Paul W Dennis: The Hight article is interesting, although I don't know that I would describe it as fantastic, but then I know …
- Dana M: I'm actually excited to hear a new Reba album. As for the Alan Jackson tour, I hope he announces Canadian …