Joshua Radin - The Rock & The Tide (Warner/14th Floor)

I was worried about this one. I've given it two spins. My worries were justified. Do you like white bred?

Frankly, this album doesn't belong on a bluegrass / folk reviews site. It doesn't even belong on a singer/songwriter reviews site. I'm sorry to sound harsh but why sign a folky singer/songwriter and then try to turn him into a top 40 charting artist? The album from start to finish sounds like overly polished, auto tuned, pro-tooled, producer led soft pop. And just because there is a synth banjo on track two 'Streetlight' doesn't make it a 'folky' song. Way down the back end of the album there are a few softer, more folky numbers that actually sound half-decent. If you read between the lines here it seems to me that Radin wrote a soft, folky album and the label has brought in producers and writers to try and 'Radio' it up. Thus they've bumped the better songs further down the tracklisting and moved the 'radio' songs up front. 

I have to stress actually that the auto tuning is so bad on the lead into track three 'I missed you' that you can hear the vocal actually being cut up in the transition from pitch to pitch. Not good. Also there seem to be three writers credited on this track. It always amazes me how songs with more writers can be WORSE than those written alone. 

The ONLY song worth half a listen on this ten track indulgence is a track Radin wrote himself 'You Got What I Need'. He's written a beautiful mid tempo guitar ballad. Played out on what sounds like a strat or a tele his voice echoes Ray Lamontagne a little and we can actually start to feel with him. Minimal production of guitar, bass, drums, a beautifully warm rhodes/Wurlitzer type keyboard sound and vocals on this leads me to believe that this album should have been a one track single - with this song plugged to death. This is THE one for sync as far as I can tell. 

Each to his own, but I'd like to hear Radin if he ever makes a real down to earth, heart on his sleeve record produced with no budget. I think that's the place we'll all connect deep down with Radin. The writing and production of this album reminds me far too much of that annoying hat-wearing popper Jason Mraz. Unfortunately, a thumbs down from me on this album barring the song 'You Got What I Need'. If you want to listen to a Josh, try Josh Ritter or Josh Rouse.

by James Cooper

Water Tower Bucket Boys - Where The Crow Don't Fly EP

I'm not sure why it has taken me so long to review this EP. Perhaps it's the fact that I liked it so much straight away. There's a possibility that I was waiting for it to wear out on me. Well, it hasn't done anything of the sort.

Garrett Durant's cover art grabbed me straight away and as soon as I started spinning the CD in my car I was hooked. 'Meet me where the crow don't fly' opens the EP. It has a lazy blue grassy feel that sort of sucks you in. What with its banjo pickin' and upright bass boom you can't help but be won over. Vocally the song gives us a great introduction to where the WTBBs are going to take us.

Moving on then to 'Walkin' down the road' we're sort of running down the road! With the fast tempo, high strung mandolins, banjos, blues harp and again, thump of the upright bass, this stuff just gets under your skin. I'm surprised I have not seen these guys on a double bill with Old Crow Medicine show in Dublin. 

If vocal harmony is your thing like me, then 'Pilgrim song' is your song. The two and three part harmonies and resonator backing are dead on. 

Track four 'Easy Way Out', is not as well written as the first three songs and the appearance of drums disappointed me (as they're not needed on a blue grass release). However I suspect it's a good, up tempo, show opener. And closing with the intimate and delicate 'R Song' is a good move.

These guys are tight. It's a good thing when an EP makes you want to find out everything you possibly can about a band. 

I was longing for a new Gillian Welch record this year and even though it has now arrived, I feel like this EP is a more exciting prospect. 

So from the Water Tower Bucket Boys - Josh Rabie, Kenny Feinstein, Cory Goldman & Kyle McGonegle we ask 'More Soon Please!' Buy the EP at:

By James Cooper.

Josh Turner 'Haywire' Humphead

The man with the deep, deep voice is back with his latest album. A solid collection of up beat songs that fits the radio formatting criteria in that Frank Rogers production is robust and rounded with mandolin, banjo and country guitar well placed in the mix of these mainly uptempo songs. The ballads like, Lovin' You On My Mind are big productions, with strings and backing vocals giving the whole song an added layer of gloss. The problem here, for this listener, is that few of the songs have any bite or grit. Many of them could be equally recorded, with a slightly different sound by the likes of Westlife. Turner's co-writes As Fast As I Could and Eye Candy (which is a very catchy song, co-written with tongue firmly in cheek by Shawn Camp and Pat McLaughlin) are marginally better as one suspects that Turner would like to get his vocal chords around something more substantial. The song Long Black Train is an example of that, and is here in a watered down version as a bonus track on this deluxe edition, but there is nothing here that has the same resonance. Haywire is well produced, played and sung and is an easy listen from one of Music Row's more traditional artists but the whole thing feels like sugar sweet piece of candy rather something more fulfilling.

Jim Lauderdale 'Patchwork River' Skycrunch

By now his music is recognizable by Lauderdale's increasingly confident singing and his subtle melodic song structures. Something that has given him some devoted fans and admirers if not much opportunity to dent the mainstream. His songs, cover by others - notably George Strait, still hit the charts but Jim Lauderdale, in his own right, seems more of an acquired taste. This new album, on his new label imprint, is another collaboration with former Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and is subtle and varied. It covers soulful sounds like Louisville Roll with organ and brass and Patty Griffin on vocal harmonies through to a song like El Dorado with the great James Burton on guitar, Al Perkins on pedal steel guitar and Ron Tutt on drums. Here he gets close to Gram Parsons Cosmic Country Music tag. There are sad reflections in the quiet mood of Far In The Far Away. Or there's the country twang of Between Your Heart And Mine where Patti Griffin again delivers some excellent harmonies. Production is shared between Lauderdale, Doug Lancio and longtime collaborator Tim Coats. Jim Lauderdale is a consummate songwriter who can add a underlying twist to any style he choses to bring to his recordings with the end result being nothing less that Lauderdale music - rootsy, soulful, solidly constructed and open to repeated playing and personal favourites. This patchwork is bright, colourful and will doubtless warm you if you were let it's aura slip around you.

David Celia 'I Tried' XX1

From the opening song Turnout Celia offers a stylized sound. That song and those that follow have a arranged sound that encompasses a wide range of styles that are often uptempo and upbeat. The list of instruments is as wide as the song with clavinet, Hammond, pedal steel, trombone, trumpet, cello, glockenspiel among the featured sounds. The jovial I'm Not Texan has the rootsyist sound with twang guitars and Gurf Morlix on dobro. It's fun, ironic and sure worth a spin. The next song Instant Puppy Love also features Mr. Morlix on this song of instant attraction. After that the songs revert to their more arranged soundscape that is inventive and interesting though you need to be open to non-roots music to take it in. It's kind of a Canadian 10cc type of thing in that the songs cover a lot of territory with some skill, wit and thought. Bug's Apocalypse has a folkier attitude with cello and flute over a light string backing. Running Out Of Time has a Beatles' Tomorrow Never Knows feel it the way it experiments with sound and space. Celia is another talented Canadian artist who could well find a bigger audience if he gets the right exposure and playing at this year's Glastonbury Festival may well help.

Dierks Bentley 'Up On The Ridge' Capitol/Humphead

This is an album that Bentley both wanted and needed to make. On his arrival in Nashville he spent time down in the Station Inn listening and absorbing the welcome harmonies of bluegrass. There it mingled with his love of classic country and righteous rock. He has included bluegrass-styled tracks on his albums before but here he has delivered an album that is rooted in the music he heard delivered by the likes of The Sidemen and while it may not exactly fit the more rigid demands of the bluegrass purist it will delight many. The key however is if it will please those who have previously been very taken with his hi-octane radio friendly country. Dierks Bentley is well aware of the need to grow, to move on and develop his music and Up On The Ridge does that. It does it very well. Now it just needs to sell. With slightly left field producer Jon Randall Stewart at the helm this album has a more organic sound and provides Bentley with the backdrop to deliver his best vocal performance to date. He is surrounded with a fine bunch of players, harmony vocalist and guest singers. They all add much to the proceedings without overwhelming the man whose name is on the cover. Those friends include Bryan Sutton, Del, Ronnie and Rob McCoury. The Punch Brothers, Kris Kristofferson, Vince Gill and many more. The songs are a mix of co-writes with producer Stewart, Tim O'Brien and Angelo as well as songs from writers of note such as Bob Dylan, Shawn Camp, Kristofferson and some upcoming Irish band called U2 (Pride - In The Name Of Love). There's a lot to like here with Senor, Fiddlin' Around, Love Grows Wild and Down In The Mine immediately hitting home on what is a very strong and satisfying album that has already gained much critical kudos.

The Jayhawks / Humphead

This is the re-release of The Jayhawks original vinyl only debut, know as the "bunkhouse album". It shows the band at their countriest, delivering music filled with enthusiasm and energy. Music that comes from the inspiration that came from the records they listened to then. Recorded in Minneapolis and produced by their then manager and mentor Charlie Pine it's not that far removed from Rank and File and other early "cow-punk" bands as well as a big nod to Gram Parsons notion of country played by rockers. It has charm and displays where the band where at at the time and howe far they have come since then. Olson handles most of the vocals on a bunch of songs that have titles that suit like Behind Bars, Six Pack On The Dashboard, Misery Tavern and Falling Star. All are enhanced by Cal Hand's pedal steel guitar runs. It's a period piece but one that still stands up to listening and dancing around to. Bands, and band members, grow and move on. The music changes and gets technically better as the bands skills develop but sometimes. That first bloom offers something that can never be repeated. It may be naive but that first flush that first time in the studio feel that will never be repeated. It may be a part of the band's history but it's more that that. It is the beginning and you need to know where you've come from to know where you want to go.

Jewel 'Sweet and Wild' Humphead/Valory Music

Fitting into the current vision of contemporary country singers should be seen as the more grown-up relative of Taylor Swift. A singer and songwriter well capable of delivering these songs that deal with love, in a mostly positive and uplifting way. The backings are a radio friendly mix of upfront drums, big sounds with some steel and fiddle in there with the B3 and big arrangements. Something that is highlighted on this deluxe edition that has a second CD which has exactly the same songs delivered in a very sparse setting of just Jewel and her guitar. This shows her undoubted talent as singer and songwriter rather than just the vocal addition to a producer's vision of the songs. That Jewel was involved with the production of both supposes that the two sides of this coin are designed to offer different perspectives on her songs, both valid and both likely to appeal to different sets of listening moods. Given the choice I prefer the Sweet and Mild acoustic set over the full on Sweet and Wild side. Either way you can make that choice yourselves and decide which Jewel shines the most for you. Either way both ides should have mainstream appeal if they get picked up by radio. If they do then Jewel can join the list of artists who may make a impact on European sensibilities. Lovers of hardcore honky-tonk though should look elsewhere for their fix.

Larkin Poe 'Spring' Edvins

This duo grew out of the Lovell Sisters and after the departure of elder sister Jessica now consists of Rebecca and Megan Lovell and a trio of additional musicians who make up Larkin Poe. The music is loosely defined Americana with touches of both pop and folk. The set subtitled The Spring EP features 9 songs written individually or together and featuring both sisters on vocals. The harmony singing is a key part of the sound which also has adds the sonic textures of lap steel, mandolin, ukulele, banjo to the bass drums and guitar bedrock. The arrangements are full of subtle melodies that stretch out across the songs making it the kind of album that requires attention to get most out of the songs. But, on occasion, songs like The Principle Of Silver Lining the emotional appeal is more direct. They have in their previous incarnation performed with Elvis Costello and the projection of their music to where it is now is undoubtably influenced by that search for craftsmanship and musical adventure. Spring is a first step, one that will have resonance with those who like their music to have some depth and to cross genres listening and looking out for the next adventure.

Rose's Pawn Shop 'Dancing On The Gallows' Self-Released

This LA based quartet are part of a selection of bands who take acoustic bluegrass and old-time music and add additional layers onto that core. In this case the acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle and mandolin are give additional drive by the presence of upright bass and drums. They are helped out on this Ethan Allen produced album by an additional seven players and two vocalists. All of which gives the album a full and decidedly powerful sound. The music then is well able to cover a lot of bases from country, country rock as well as the core layer of bluegrass. The end result has been described as "Del McCoury meets Mick Jagger" and be that as it may this is strong enough to stand on its own feet. But the description and the punkish attitude means your in for a fast ride. They come as a part of the LA country music tradition that was spearheaded back in the eighties by Dwight Yoakam's country with rock attitude that saw hardcore country being played in punk rock clubs as well as in the Palamino. Lead singer Paul Givant possess a strong voice that can deliver the out and out energy of Ball Of Flames as well as the more poignant place of Patiently. He is ably backed up by the rest of the band with well positioned vocal harmonies. An album highlight however has to be One Last Of Whiskey, a song about the pain of trying to quit, once again, the lure of alcoholic absolution. Rose's Pawn Shop are a welcome addition to a strong legacy of country music emanating from that town south of Bakersfield. Dancing On The Gallows will have your feet tapping and your heart racing and Rose's Pawn Shop is will worth redeeming.

Michael Weston King 'I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier' Valve

This new album amplifies again what a under rated artist King is. This album which features songs of protest that when ever they were written are completely relevant to the endless cycle of conflict that seems to know no end. King explains the genesis and inspiration for these songs in his sleeve notes as well as providing a list of other songs that could easily have been included. What is here is a set of songs some original, some sets of words that MWK has written music for and arranged. The outside songs chosen include two Phil Ochs songs Cops Of The World and Is There Anybody There? Bob Dylan's I Pity The Poor Immigrant, Bob Darin's Simple Song Of Freedom. The title track, Life Is Fine and Parish Of Rope are among the sets of words that KIng has written music for. The album is rounded off with three MWK originals. The music is coherent, passionate and compelling and is undoubtably one of the best albums that Michael Weston King has yet released. The songs are delivered at the most direct by just guitar and voice but elsewhere Alan Cook on pedal steel, Rob Bon Homme on snare drum and Paul Hesketh form the backbone of additional players who bring life to these songs. Even if you weren't aware of the nature of the songs the music on offer is strong and striking and should be heard by a wider audience that is likely. This is a shame on may levels and a sad reflection on the channels that music get delivered through. For more and for a listen go to and it's related sites.

East Nashville 'More Music From The Other Side Vol.3' Red Beet

There's a thriving community of songwriters and musicians living in the low-rent section of town know as East Nashville. It has little to do with the big machine that consumes artists up there on Music Row. It is an inter-active network that produces some of the best music coming from the town known as Music City. It offers a varied and mixed stew of music that, in truth, has as little to do with traditional country as has much of Nashville's mainstream releases. Rather it is a haven to the art of the below-the-radar singer/songwriter. Volume 1 was a double CD that was produced by label founder Eric Brace, as is this volume. A few of the artists from the initial set are also featured here, something to do with the transient natute of the working troubadour. Among those who appear on both are Kieran Kane, Stephen Simmons, Kevin Gordon, Tom Mason and Tim Carroll all of whom contribute some of the best music on offer. Some of the songs are unreleased, like Elizabeth Cook's On The Wire, which is a little different from her usual output being rockier with a distorted guitar backing that offers a wider view of her talent. Given that the songs on such compilations are not usually the best song from an artist's album, understandably, it is a perfect vehicle to use an used track or to give the listener an idea of what an artists music is like in the main. In that light it makes you want to check out artists you may not have heard before. Artists like Matt Urmy whose Renaissance Rodeo has a Todd Snider sense of wordplay and underlying humour. Nashville treasure Phil Lee opens and closes the album with tracks from his So, Long It's Been Good To Know You and if you don't know Phil Lee then this is a good way to check him out along with 18 other East Nashville residents. No matter where they've come from. Say hello to antipodeans Audrey Auld and Anne McCue. Check out Red Beet and its other release at and for links to the sites of the artists featured here.You won't be disappointed.

Leo Rondeau 'Down At The End Of The Bar' Self-Released

This Austin based singer-songwriter has released a second album of original songs that are equal parts filled with humour, history and observation that make them a good listen. Musically Rondeau rings the changes and adds instrumental textures throughout. Rapture features banjo and brass to help set the mood of the songs quizzical nature, a reflection on the mysterious ways. That contrasts with the album closer Better Place For You which features a bare bones backing of banjo and fiddle. Between those points there is enough pedal steel and dobro to firmly stamp the words "country music" across the songs, but coming from Austin don't expect that Music Row sheen and pop-polish. While Rondeau doesn't have the most distinctive voice you may come across it is one that does what it needs to do to get these songs across, and one that will get better with age and timbre. The players include the renowned Cindy Cashdollar on dobro and steel along with some fine Austin players who give the perfect backing to this set of serviceable songs. Rondeau's Civil War era outlaw song Had I Know, with its atmospheric trumpet, is one of the strongest songs here and an album highlight. Leo Rondeau is definitely one to watch and Down At The End Of The Bar suggest a bigger talent in the making.

The Pines 'Tremolo' Red House

The duo's second album has it's roots planted in the past but it's shoots are reaching out towards a full moon. Produced by the duo and Bo Ramsey the album is centered around the soft spoken singing voices of the duo, Benson Ramsey and David Huckfelt who deliver their original songs over a restrained but effective backing of bass, drums and keyboards. The electric guitar contributions give the songs their tension and spark. The delivery is in tune with some of their contemporaries whilst also suggest a link to that softer late 60's and 70's folk mixed with country sound. The two voices are similar and blend with ease to give the overall a casual warmth that is easy to assimilate. The two cover they have chosen fit well within their canon Skipper And His Wife is again graced by some fine guitar picking that moves the song along while Mississippi John Hurt's Spike Driver Blues floats on slide and electric guitar that adds to the urgency of the songs message of return and ruin. The shortest song here Avenue Of The Saints, the only one clocking in at under 3 minuets is an echoey instrumental that has an instant attraction in it's own right. The longest song is the closer Shiny Shoes but it never seems to outstay its welcome. Something that can be said of the whole album - an understated collection of songs that captivated with their sense of drawing a listener into its heart of semi moonlight darkness.

Forest Sun 'Harlequin Goodnight' Special Rider

A talented San Francisco artist with several albums to his credit delivers this confident and clever album. Co-produced by Forest Sun and Michael Winger with a core trio of Sun, bassist Steve Adams and drummer Michael Messer. Add to that backing vocalists, cello, dobro, keyboards and accordion and the songs are full of contrasting instrumentation that covers quite a few musical stepping stones. All of which makes this an album offers much to the listener with an open mind. It has no foot in any particular genre other than good music but overall the feel is of a rootsy base that should appeal across the board and is an example of the fact that there is a lot of music out there fling under the radar that is unlikely to get the attention it deserves in a situation where specialist music programmes are being squandered rather than encouraged by a system that prefers everything to be the same rather than encouraging individualism. Forest Sun makes music that may not appeal to all but their is not doubting the craft on display here. His voice is strong and confident throughout and the focal point of the album. Gurus and Rockstars, which features Larkin Gayl on equally strong duet vocals is a song in search of a movie or some mainstream placement. The one cover Dylan's She Belongs To Me is giving a treatment that makes it fits with the overall context of the album but also shows Sun reverential to the original but giving the song his own touch. Harlequin Goodnight will tuck you in after entertaining you.