The Earnest Lovers ‘Sing Sad Songs’ - Elko

An introductory mini album from the talented duo of Pete Krebs and Leslie Beia and their five piece band has it beginnings in the classic country duets of the past, but with these 6 original songs they bring us bang up to date. Well bang up to date that is if your heart is still with the music that was made first several decades back and not what you would currently hear if you turned on ‘country’ radio in the US. Based in Portland, Oregon they both formed the band after meeting in a local country bar as a means to develop their songwriting skills and this seemed a good way to do it. 

Krebs was previously a member of the SubPop label band Hazel who played with Nirvana among others before being involved in a couple of roots orientated bands. Beia was one half of the duo Copper & Coal prior to join Krebs in this venture. Together with their experienced band - Ian Miller, lead guitar; Marko Markoc, bass; Kevin Major, drums; fiddle player Annalisa Tornfelt and pedal steel player Rusty Blake - they worked with producer Jon Neufeld to bring these songs to life and give them the patina of those classic country duets. Music beloved by other musicians and true followers of the honky-tonk highway. These guys have the skills and the wish to get it right and they have.

The vocals are shared between the two with one or other taking the lead or swapping lines and also bring their close harmonies in to play. The songs are good too with titles like the cleverly titled San Andreas’ Fault, Angel of Sunrise and Still Missing You. No Song Came By Today sounds not unlike a unheard Gram/Emmylou collaboration. Everybody’s Trying To Be My Pal is a jaunty twang uptempo tale of a partner’s disapproval for the kind of escapades that his friends might suggest.

All in all a welcome addition to the ranks of those who still believe in the sounds (and sights) of much loved but often ignored genre of music. One listen and you will also want to be their pal too.

My Darling Clementine 'How Do You Plead?' Drumfire

That this album has taken so long to get released, it was recorded over two years ago, is surprising. On the other hand I can see the reaction to an album of newly written classic-style country songs written by two English singer-songwriters might be a hard sell. However it shouldn't be as this is superb. From the singing, through the songs and the exemplary playing through to the solid, warm production. This must rank as one of the best country music albums to come out of the UK and that's not to damn it with feint praise as it also stands tall against similar albums released in the US and elsewhere. The assembled players are Martin Belmont on guitar, Alan cook on pedal steel, Bob Loveday on violin, Geraint Watkins on keyboards and Bobby Irwin and Jim Russell on drums and Kevin Foster on bass. All deserve praise for the way they deliver a classic country setting for the songs of Michael Weston King and his real life partner Lou Dalgleish. While Weston King has written the majority of the songs Dalgleish is equally adept at getting the mood right. Witness her song The Other Half wherein she delivers what might be her best vocal performance here and both vocalists deliver emotional and expressive singing throughout. That both writers have absorbed their obvious love and understanding of the genre shouldn't be a surprise given their track record. This is an album that is immersed in the golden age of country music as well as having an ear to contemporary takes on the form like Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan. At the heart of these duets is an understanding of the human condition and the interaction between couples when love can go wrong and be twisted into something more malevolent and spiteful. There's also regret and recognition of weakness. But in the end it's the sound that counts and even if you don't listen too closely to the lyrics the sound here is uplifting and entertaining. It is an album that repays repeated listen and one I will return to often. I plead guilty to loving this album. All involved should be justly proud and let's hope the undoubted praise it will receive will turn into more substantial sales for this fine, well-packaged album and its accompanying lyric booklet.

Randy Travis 'Anniversary Celebration' Humphead/WB

One criticism that one often hears about todays bunch of country singers is that you just can't recognize them. So in that light I listened to this album, the first time, without reference to the credits to see just who stood out. It was true I couldn't identify that many other than a couple of standouts. A Few Ole Country Boys the second track in features Jamie Johnson who seems to have found his voice from the off. Others definitely benefit from singing with Randy Travis still powerful and distinctive voice but few overshadow his tempered voice and delivery. When I did look a couple of the duet partners names were new to me. Kristin Chenoweth is an actress and singer who joins Travis on Love Looks Good On You a song that is more Broadway than Bakersfield but delivered well. Better Class Of Losers/She Got The Rhythm is a nicely uptempo medley from Travis and Alan Jackson and highlights each distinctive stylings. Shelby Lynne gives a typically strong performance on Promises. One of the most powerful and affecting songs here is Road To Surrender a song that only makes sense when sung by people with years under their belt, its spiritual message is sung by Travis, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson is as powerful as it gets. It's one of the more recent songs included in the collection and it's followed by a classic Diggin 'Up Bones with John Anderson who is another name from the past who is good to hear again. It's 25 years since Randy Travis magnificent Storms Of Life was a part of a wave of what was called New Traditionalists appeared (along with Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakam and Lyle Lovett) and many of these new younger vocalist owe as much to Travis, in their vocal nuances, as they do to earlier singers who influenced Randy Travis. Some of these earlier influences appear on Didn't We Shine and include George Jones, Ray Price, Connie Smith, Lorrie Morgan, Gene Watson and Joe Stampley all still vocally powerful. Produced by his long time producer Kyle Lehning it is a fitting tribute to Travis achievements and aptitude, and for sticking to a genre he clearly loves and has more to give to.