The Honeycutters ‘Me Oh My’ - Organic

This North Carolina quintet are proving their musical development and skills with this, their third album. The band leader is Amanda Platt who here is not only the lead singer and songwriter but also the album's primary producer. She is an undoubted talent and is ably accompanied by the rest of the band Tal Taylor on mandolin, Rick Cooper on bass, Josh Milligan on drums and Matt Smith on guitar of the electric and pedal steel variety. The fourteen songs are both memorable and melodious. Comparisons have been made to Gillian Welch (though more so in their early incarnation as a duo) and Lucinda Williams. To these ears though a closer comparison would be with Eilen Jewell, Zoe Muth, Yvette Landry or even Molly and the Heymakers from a few years ago. In that it is the combination of strong voice, literate songs and intelligent playing that at all times serves the songs.

The album title track is a melancholy song that talks of infant death, marriage, love. As the saying goes "all human life is there". But these songs honest vignettes of women dealing with the situations that occur in coping with the (not so) simple task of living. However the music, that while the Honeycutters offer is often bitter-sweet in theme, is for the most part pretty uplifting and positive. There are songs that are ideal to dance to like Ain’t That The Truth, others are more reflective affairs like Carolina, Not That Simple or the darker-hued tones of Texas ’81. In truth there are few moments that don’t hit home on several fronts and Me Oh My heralds the coming of age of another band who make their blend of contemporary country something that draws on the patterns laid down in the past but imprint it with their own individual dna.

By taking the lead role on the album Amanda Platt seems to have found her voice as both a singer and writer. Directing the band and guests in the studio has also helped her to realise her vision. However none of that means a great deal if the end result wasn’t so as strong. Sometimes, with some other bands, the elements are there but they don’t quite gel as they should.

They have described their music as Appalachian Honky Tonk and that seems an appropriate blend of their acoustic traits and their electric topology. Even if the words honky tonk usually suggest something with a little more of beer-soaked grit. The Honycutters have an air of refinement that is a little less one dimensional than some exponents of the honky tonk life, though many of the underlying themes are common.

The Honeycutters have collectively produced an album that deserves attention and applause for simply making good music at a time when so much that’s on offer is both superficial and scalar. This is something that Amanda Platt and her fellow players can be justifiably happy with and an album that should be sought out for a listen - at the very least.

Dierks Bentley 'Home' Capitol/Humphead

After the bluegrass base of Bentley's last album Up On The Ridge he has returned to more familiar territory here. Produced by Brett Bevers and Luke Wooten the sound kicks it up a notch or do with Bentley's high-energy take on his brand of contemporary country that while it has it's roots in traditionalism will never be mistaken for a album recorded in the 50s. Which is something that mainstream radio will applaud. As will his many fans. The themes are about having a good time, about relationships and what it means to be at home. As Dierks notes in the booklet home, for him, is many things - his family, his friends, his country or his old D-28. A mix of things that make you feel safe and give you pleasure. The title track itself has been the subject of some controversy but aside from that is song fused with those sentiments on a song that is more reflective that the more good-time songs like Am I The Only One or Tip It On Back. The song selection finds Bentley as co-writer on half the songs, the others are new songs from outside sources picked to fit an overall mood. Most of the songs are about lost or found love and desire. These are themes that relate to Bentley's audience if not to Bentley himself. Home will be a success, it represents the more acceptable sound of major label country-based music. It fuses elements of the music that Dierks Bentley loves which includes country, bluegrass, roots and stadium rock. It suits the place he is right now. The a-team players do exactly what they are supposed to do and many of these songs will become staples in his live set. Home is where the heart is they say and Dierks Bentley is following his heart. You can decide if you also want to follow or not.

Girls, Guns & Glory 'Sweet Nothings' Lonesome Day

Born in Bakersfield, raised on rock 'n' roll, parented by punk the sound of Girls, Guns & Glory is a product of all these influences, conscious and unconscious, which makes them exponents of a very contemporary country infused music. Not the sound of Nashville today but rather a more vital one. Bands like Big Blue Hearts and The Souvenirs, to name but two, have previously played this blend of Holly, Orbison, of Cash and Hank Williams influences with solid songwriting, memorable melodies, strong voice and tangible twang to create something positive and vibrant. The band are led from the front by Ward Hayden on vocals and acoustic guitar, he is also the band's songwriter. He is ably backed up by guitarist Chris Hersch, bassist Paul Dilly and drummer Michael Calabrese. The are joined, on the recording by a number of guests who add keyboards, pedal steel, mandolin and accordion to the sound. Production by Paul Q Kolderie and Adam Taylor allows these songs a sonic excellence which makes for some striking music. The album plays as a cohesive whole that balances the uptempo driving songs like Nighttime alongside a more heartbreaking ballad like Last Night I Dreamed, complete with a spoken verse. Lost, strayed and broken relationships are at the heart of all these songs, as they would be in the majority of classic country songs. The duet with rising star Sarah Borges on 1,000 Times is a balanced male/female interaction that makes it an album highlight. But not a highlight that stand head and shoulders above the rest of the songs here, all of which add up to one fine album and the best that Girls, Guns & Glory has so far delivered. Here is a band that obviously loves music rooted in the 50s and 60s but who have not tried to slavishly replicate that sound but rather make it a living and vital format. Fans of Dwight Yoakam, Chris Isaak and early Mavericks should check this Massachusetts band out. It's likely you'll like it as much as I do.

Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers 'Starlight Hotel' Signature Sounds

A singer/songwriter who plays country music pretty much straight down the line with her band. She is singer, acoustic guitar players, writer and co-producer of this fine album. Muth has a voice that is distinctive and memorable with the right degree of emotion that makes it believable in the context of these songs sense of heartbreak and relationship breakdown. The Lost High Rollers deliver the goods too with a solid rhythm section from Greg Nies and Mike McDermott and a mandolin used as both a rhythm and lead instrument played by Ethan Lawton along side the electric guitar, dobro and steel of Dave Harmonson. There the occasional use of trumpet to add a little texture to the mix but it's Muth songs and voice that are the focal point of this their latest album. They play their music as an irony free tribute to the classic country music from the past but without resorting to a pastiche of an earlier era's sound. They do it with ability and heart that gives the music its core value. If I Can't Trust You With A Quarter (How Can I Trust You With My Heart) has that classic wordplay that has all but been expunged from country radio pop-orientated concerns these days. But that's just one song among a whole bunch of good songs that makes Starlight Hotel a real pleasure to listen and return to. It's full of pedal steel and mandolin embellishments that give the music its context, from ballads like Tired Worker's Song to the uptempo dance floor energy of Come Inside or the loneliness that haunts those staying in the Starlight Hotel. An album that will appeal to those who like the country straight, neat and delivered direct to and from the heart.