Humphead new releases by Stephen Rapid

George Strait  Love Is Everything / The Cowboy Rides Away  

By now there can be few who listen to country music who don't know what George Strait sounds like. He has stayed pretty much on track since he started. However if you compare the earliest tracks to the later ones on the 3 CD compilation The Cowboy Rides Away you can hear the changes in production techniques and the difference in how instruments are mixed. On Strait’s latest album, Love Is Everythin, g the drums are bigger and the guitars a little bit harder but that doesn't distract from the reason why George Strait still has such a big fan base and continues to make some convincing country music.

His voice is as good as it ever was -  better in fact now. The years of live and studio work have added a little timbre to his tone, yet it is still distinctively Strait. He has stuck to his path and still sells large quantities of records.This suggests that there are still many listeners who are not convinced by the ongoing "modernisation" of country, supposedly for an ever younger audience.

Another change is that Strait is more involved in the recording  process these days. He is writing songs, mostly with his son Bubba. There are a couple here that are written by the two of them with longtime supplier of songs Dean Dillon. I Just Can't Go On Dying Like This is a fine ballad written by Strait solo and it shows a continued confidence in his ability. Another name that might surprise some is that of Keith Gattis, who as well as being a solo artist in his own right, once served as Dwight Yoakam's lead guitarist. One of the standout songs here is Blue Melodies, a song about songwriting with some stellar pedal steel, which was written by Gattis and Wyatt Earp.  Other well know names here include Al Anderson and Chris Stapelton, both artist who now concentrate on writing rather than any other aspects of their careers.

Love is Everything is one of the best of Strait's recent albums, all of which have seemingly re-engaged the singer,  maybe as a reaction to what he's hearing on the radio these days. A fine album with a solid country setting that has lots of fiddle and steel , two instruments which have always been prominent aspects of George Strait's music.

The Cowboy Rides Away is full of solid country performances from the cream of Music Row's writers and players. There are classic hit songs from his back catalogue that include Does Fort Worth Ever Cross Your Mind, Blue Clear Sky, Ocean Front Property, Amarillo By Morning and All My Ex's Live In Texas. But of course with such a strong back catalogue there are songs here that have not appeared on previous best of compilations.

George Strait is such a consistent artist that any such compilation will be full of great songs and singing and The Cowboy Rides Away is no exception but Love Is Everything is proof enough that this cowboy isn't ready to hang up his saddle just yet and with many the old masters no longer around it's good to know that George Strait is as straight and true to his vision as he ever was.

Lee Ann Womack The Definitive Collection 

This is a career overview from Humpead,  who are doing sterling work with their compilations and current releases. Lee Ann Womack originally appeared as a traditional country singer who then crossed over to a more mainstream, pop-orientated series of hits such as I Hope You Dance before reverting back to a more straight country style. Since then she has been moved aside by a set of younger singers which finds her moving on from her stint with MCA in the USA. 

Whatever she sings Womack has a powerful voice with an undeniable twang that is to the fore on songs like I'll Think Of A Reason Later.

Throughout her time at MCA she worked with different producers like Mark Wright, Byron Gallimore and Frank Liddell (who is Womack's husband). Through the different styles she maintained a consistent voice with a recognisable twang and tone gave her a strong country identity. Much of the material she has recorded comes from both left-field talents as well as the Music Row mainstreamers like Chris Stapelton, Leslie Satcher, Buddy and Julie Miller, Rodney Crowell, Bruce Robison, Jamie O'Hara, Gretchen Peters and Hank Cochran. 

The songs here include Never Again, Again,  A Little Past Little Rock,  Ashes By Now,  Lord I Hope The Day Is Good, Does My Ring Burn Your Finger?,  Last Call, I May Hate Myself in the Morning and I'll Never be Free and Mendocino County Line – the last two duets with Willie Nelson. Womack may have lost out to the new names currently riding high in the charts but she will, no doubt, be back. In the meantime this collection sums up a singer who deserves the kudos she received and the lasting work she delivered for MCA.

Bill Anderson The Definitive Collection

Best known as a songwriter and for his relaxed vocal style which was the source of his nom de plume "Whisperin'", Bill Anderson is a stylist who has written songs recorded by performers from Ken Dodd to country singers Connie Smith and George Strait and even Aretha Franklin. This collection has 50 songs that span the late 50s to the late 70s, with songs like Po' Folks, Happiness, Five Little Fingers, Bright Lights and Country Music through to his smooth version of Lionel Ritchie's Three Times A Lady, the final track on this two CD set.

The chronological running order goes from his more traditional sounding songs,  recorded with then A Team players like Pete Drake, Grady Martin and Floyd Cramer,  to the more cosmopolitan pop country of his later songs. Bill remains a writing force today and has written in recent times with current hit makers like Brad Paisley. He remains a man in love with his work and while he may not appeal to everyone, there is plenty here to cement his reputation as a consistent hit maker.  

Steve Earle  The Definitive Collection 1986-1992 

Showing the diverse nature of these collections,  this one brings together Steve Earle's work from his MCA albums. This period produced some of his hardest, twang-filled music,  songs that included Guitar Town, The Devil's Right Hand, Copperhead Road, Someday, Billy Austin, and I Ain't Ever Satisfied; songs that have stood the test of time and ones often still included in his live set.

There are 39 tracks here including live versions of the Rolling Stones' Dead Flowers and Nebraska  which both show his affinity with both blue collar rock and Stones' styled raunch. Most Earle fans will have these songs in their collection,  but if you're coming to Steve Earle from his recent live performance and albums,  this bookends them well.

Earle is an always engaging writer and these songs have relevance and righteousness. They show that Earle had learnt from his contemporaries if not from life. Some of this music comes from a time when he was in thrall to various addictions and it has a rawness that was tempered later by a more acoustic approach after fronting the Dukes, a band who could rock pretty hard when required. 

Steve Earle's career has spanned more than 30 years and he is still focused on what he is saying and playing; still a good old boy getting tough, but one with a fearless heart.