Don Henley 'Cass County' - Capitol
The Eagles were never one of my favorite bands. I'd listen to both the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers but my musical tastes were for something harder at that time. Now some 15 years after his last solo album, Don Henley has reverted to his country roots. While the Eagles edged listeners away from the traditional country sound in their heyday, here Henley revisits that sound.
The album is named after where Henley grew up in East Texas. Cass Country is full of songs that echo the lives of people who grew up in the 50s and beyond. Henley co-produced the album with former Heartbreaker's drummer Stan Lynch and the duo selected players who bring these songs alive. Milo Deering's pedal steel guitar is both evocative and prominent, the guitarists are such as JT Corenflos and Steuart Smith who can both rock and twang as the song requires. Add to that the rock solid rhythm section of Glenn Worf and Greg Morrow and you have a mighty foundation to build on. Other instruments include mandolin, piano, organ, fiddle and Dobro, but it is the singers who give the album it's depth.
The opening track (Tift Merritt's Bramble Rose) features Henley sharing verses with Miranda Lambert and Mick Jagger. The latter adds harmonica and makes one wonder when the Stones frontman might venture into similar territory, having touched on it both on previous solo albums and with the Stones. The next track, one of many songs co-written by Henley and Lynch, is called The Cost Of Living , something the songs tells us that everybody pays. It features a distinguished vocal from Merle Haggard who brings his usual majesty to the recording. Another highlight is Henley’s duet with Dolly Parton on the Louvin Brothers' When I Stop Dreaming. The other duet is with Martina McBride on That Old Flame. Throughout Henley is in fine voice and indeed, his voice has gained both grain and gravitas throughout the years.There are numerous others joining in on the vocal contributions including Jamey Johnson, Lee Ann Womack, Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, Lucinda Williams and Trisha Yearwood all on harmony. It sounds like one of those recording sessions where a lot of fun was had and a lot of respect felt.
The range of themes are largely about relationships and regret for mistakes made, a viewpoint that most often comes with the wisdom of age and of lessons learnt. But there are stories of a single woman who waits tables while waiting for something better to come along (Waiting Tables) and the need of a farmer who knows a variety of things are prayed for but that his need is just for some rain in Praying for Rain.
That sense of hard fought understanding of where the truth lies can be found in the touching ballad Younger Man where the subject reflects that the person who seeks his attention should be looking for a younger man, not him. Henley delivers a very believable vocal that sums up the sentiment of the song with ease. On the final song Where I Am Now (there is a deluxe version with four extra tracks) he reflects with energy and attitude that he is at home and happy in his own skin. The whole album is testament to that understanding and comes down to someone making music for its own sake, having little else to prove other than the music itself.
Chris Stapleton 'Traveller' - Mercury
This is the first solo release from the former SteelDrivers and Jompson Brothers singer who has been making a living in Nashville since 2001. He is cited alongside Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell in making inroads into the upper echelons of the Country charts without compromising his ideals or attitude. Stapleton, Simpson and Isbell all have producer Dave Cobb in common and Cobb seems to get the best out of these performers in a studio environment. Stapleton co-produced the album using a tight band that included his wife Morgane on vocals alongside bassist J.T. Cure and drummer Derek Mixon. Additonal players include Mickey Raphael on harmonica, Robby Turner on steel and Mike Webb on keyboards. Though Stapleton is signed to Mercury Nashville he has gone against the grain by using his own band with hand-picked guests and it wasthe most organic way to get the feel right.
The central instrument is Stapleton's own powerful voice which is equal parts southern rock, blues, soul and country. His voice is as arresting on the guitar and vocal delivery of Whiskey And You as it is on the soul infused full band reading of the Dean Dillon and Linda Hargrove song Tennessee Whiskey or Might As Well Get Stoned. You might see a theme developing here, but if so it is one expanded further with songs like The Devil Named Music, a song that highlights the way the need to make music can keep families apart. The subject of constant movement is also echoed in the title track. Of a deeper personal note is Daddy Doesn't Pray Anymore, a song inspired by his late father's later life when he didn't say grace before a meal.
Overall many of these song take a mid to slow tempo that allows the songs a breathing space not dictated by simply making them uptempo workouts. More of You is a song that acknowledges the place his wife has in his life and music. Another cover is a song that was previously recorded by Charlie Daniels Was It 26. The final track, Sometimes I Cry, was recorded live in front of an invited audience; it is a slow blues meditation on finding no other means to express a depth of emotion; it features an impassioned vocal and some deft blues guitar.
Stapleton's songwriting talents are to be reckoned with. He has already proved that his songs can find a place in the mainstream having had cuts by such major label artists as Thomas Rhett, Jason Eady, Little Big Town, Luke Byron, Trace Adkins, Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean and Kenny Chesney. Indeed the majority of the songs here are co-writes. Stapleton is also an accomplished guitarist, a skill he honed with the more rock orientated Jompson Brothers, who apparently fit somewhere between Led Zeppelin and AC/DC. It is easily to see how easily Stapleton's voice would fit into any of these genres (and more).
With a running time of over an hour there is a lot to take in on Traveller, but the skill of all involved makes it an easy task. Those more interested in the mainstream or the traditional and retro side of things might not take to it as others will. Stapleton is being seen as part of a resurgence of a more believable and creative section of Nashville's musical output and it's easy to see why, but it remains to be seen just how much success he will have in the long term. However, one has the feeling that Stapleton will be around for quite a while yet as both a performer and songwriter.
Joe King Carrasco 'Chiliandro' - Anaconda
Perhaps best know this side of the Atlantic for his association with the Stiff Records single Buena, but there is much more to the Austin based musician than that. A quick visit to his website will give you an idea of the number of albums he has released. He is an active working musician who leads his band in their delivery of energetic and effervescent Mexicana rock. This album sound s like a party and is relentlessly ‘up’ as witnessed by the wah-wah guitar-underpinned Tequila Revolution. But the point of entry is one of the best rave-ups here. My Ding Dong Daddy (Don't Daddy No Mo). Sung in English and Spanish it is full of songs built around catchy hooks and riffing guitars and percussive embellishments.
The king is joined by his band Los Side FX who included Leanne Atherton, Rick Del Castillo, guitarist Albert Besteiro, bassist Chuggy Hernandez and Vince Mejia on drums among a bunch of special guests who help keep things interesting. They bring these songs to life in a way that we don't often get to hear over here. At it's heart is a understanding of the way that the culture of rock 'n' roll fitted the Latin sense of making a groove.
Songs like Who Put The P In Pendejo and the slide guitar blues of Adios Terlingua or the full on power guitar jam of Oakaka are all songs that can't fail to set the foot tapping and make you appreciate the skill of all those involved here. Joe King Carrasco rules his kingdom with a trusty Telecaster, a nifty tune and an amiable attitude. Those who have enjoyed the recent From Dusk To Dawn film and TV series should find themselves right at home here. Carrasco has also made appearances with our own BP Fallon and is one of the featured guitarists on his Live From Texas CD.
The Delta Jacks 'Trouble Ahead' - Self Release
Another name to add to the list of credible roots bands in the UK. This quartet are from the same are of South Essex that spawned Dr. Feelgood, Kursaal Flyers and Eddie and the Hot Rods. In their DNA they have roots of these bands especially the latter two. The Rods for the energy and attitude and the Kursaals for the roots influence. Though a great many of the their influences would be more recent. They mention both the Legendary ShackShakers and Silm Cessna's Auto Club as bands whose fans may also like this crew. I don't find the quite the same Southern fervor that exist in both of those outfits, but I can see the point.
This, their debut, features 11 original songs which feature lots of banjo upfront and centre over a solid uptempo rhythm section. The band are Dominic Bauers, Greg Beager, Trevor Reeves and Ryan Bradshaw. The latter takes the lead vocal duties and plays the harmonica. It is that in some ways which links them to the sound of JD Wilkes and the ShackShakers (as well as Dr Feelgood). But over the drum and bass platform they add touches of mandolin and keyboards into their sound.
This is, perhaps, best exemplified by the likes of Blackened Heart Blues - a song with a strong vocal presence. The albums closer Go Go Go is a frantic piece of rockin' rhythm and blues that exhorts the listener to rock 'n' roll. There's a touch of Cash style to House of Sin though it is delivered at a pace that relates to Johnny's early kick-out-the-lights middle finger raising that to his latter days. The more sedate Alabama finds them coming up for air and deliver a songs that stands out for that and for Bradshaw's solid vocal. The song Trouble Ahead features more of the banjo and harmonica sound after their nicely balanced group vocals at the start.
The Delta jacks are an enjoyable and uplifting romp through the roots swamp and make tribute to the music that inspires them without simply imitating those inspirations. They are never going to be tagged as ground breaking originals but rather are infused with a spirit that is engaging and energizing. If there's trouble ahead then it's time to step on the gas.
Patrick Sweany 'Daytime Turned To Nighttime' – NMR
Following a couple of albums produced by his friend Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys Sweany has this time decided to work with another guitarist/producer - this time out it's Joe Mahan and a tight group of players including Ron Eoff on bass, Bryan Owings on drums and Tyson Rogers on keyboards. On he cover there's a slightly menacing monochrome picture of Sweany but a happier looking man features on the inner sleeve. The music itself is not dissimilar. Drawing from wide range of musical influences that are essentially akin to some classic soul, roots rock and blues, it has also been described as soulful Southern Rock 70's style. However when you listen to the music it soon forms its own identity.
There are moments of acoustic slide guitar over the solid rhythm section as in Tiger Pride. A song where he gets some vocal support from Laura Mayo and Alexis Saski. Things get a little more philosophical on Here To Stay (Rock n Roll) in which he reason though his time isn't going to be long that the ubiquitous music will be. More affecting in some ways are songs like Afraid Of You and Sweethearts Together both albums highlights. The latter a slow and subtle song with keyboards and guitar giving context to a captivating vocal. Somewhat rougher and readier is the more uptempo song Back Home which definitely shows his bluesier rocking' side - though the majority of the songs take a more temperate tempo. All which shows that Sweany is comfortable mixing things up a little but never allows his music get too polished or smooth. This is music with stubble. Music steeped in the blues underdogs, the soul survivors and roots pioneers that finds focus in Sweany's heartfelt delivery and songwriting.
Patrick Sweany is a noteworthy exponent of authenticity and attitude. Both have to be right and they are here on Daytime Turned To Nighttime.
Patty Loveless 'Honky Tonk Angel -The MCA Years' - Humphead
This is another of Humphead’s handy career overviews which takes in Patty Loveless' years at MCA from the mid eighties to the early nineties. Although traditionally minded, these tracks show that her label and producers were keeping abreast of changes and trends in the country charts. Apparent throughout is just how good a singer and interpreter Loveless is. A glance at the writers’ credits reveals that songwriters - no matter how good or successful they might be at a particular time - fall out of favour. Names like Karen Staley, Karen Brooks, Harry Stinson and, especially, Kostas who has nine writing credits here. He is no longer a writer who feature much in Nashville songwriting credits - more's the pity. Of Loveless' own contributions the still off-kilter sounding Sounds of Loneliness is an interesting highlight alongside the somewhat venomous God Will.
Working with producers Tony Brown and husband Emory Gordy Jr (both alumni of Emmylou Harris's Hot Band) she released a series of albums with MCA before moving to greater commercial success at Epic. Never-the-less these 50 songs here are well worth revisiting for (if nothing else) Loveless' pure, twangy, mountain soul voice and obvious love of what she does. These albums also featured some excellent players including guitarists Richard Bennett, Ray Flacke, Albert Lee and Stuart Smith. Whilst others involved in the various sessions included Jerry Douglas, Mark O'Connor, John Jarvis and Paul Franklin. Numerous of her contemporary singers joining her in the studio were such luminaries as Dolly Parton, Russell Smith, Claire Lynch and Vince Gill. Loveless has appeared on Gill's breakthrough 1990 hit When I Call Your Name.
With 50 songs to choose from you will have your own favorites, the ones that stand out for this writer include If My Heart Had Windows, the title track from her 1988 album - a pedal steel infused weeper. The more rockin' version of Steve Earle's A Little Bit In Love shows that Loveless was up to and could tackle a whole variety of moods. Her lively and swinging take on the Hank Williams song I Can't Get You Off My Mind is a further example of this. Add to that Blue Side Of Town and the aforementioned Kostas' Timber I'm Falling are all testament to a singer who had a level of success but who should be held in far greater esteem that she is now. This when a time when a song could have the drive and a rock sensibility while still sound steadfastly like it should belong in the country genre.
A must have compilation for those who might have these albums on cassette or have missed them the first time out. A slightly more prepossessing cover would have helped though.