Reviews by Stephen Rapid

Gill Landry ‘Self-titled’ - ATO

For his third solo album the former Old Crow Medicine Show member explores some of the same ground that influenced that band but also further expands his horizons. He produced this album of largely self-written songs performed with a select group of players that include Jamie Dick on drums as well as Ross Holmes on fiddle and Skylar Wilson and Robert Ellis on guitar. Landry himself plays guitar, bass, pedal steel, harmonium and harmonica as required. But it is the songs that resonate with everyone involved serving those.

The album opens with the slightly ominous Funeral In My Heart a song that asks the question “why do good things have to die” in a tone that suits that sentiment. Just Like You which follows takes an opposite view given it considers in an uncertain time the thing that helps most is “knowing someone just like you is alive.” The songs are all essays on trying to figure life out in a way that makes sense and while they are at times opaque and poetic, the overall feel suggests that the heart wins out. Throughout Landry’s vocal is both powerful and poignant. He uses the experience he has gained to this point to illuminate the songs with a restrained and pained passion. Lost Love, Bad Love and Long Road are all songs that attest to the force and follies of love.

The music is infused with dust and faded light but manages to illuminate some of the darker corners that the songs suggest. Musically it is innovative and touches a variety of moods and incorporates with the mainly mid-paced songs of both the past and future. Particularly attractive is the sultry border feel of Fennario with its border brass, Spanish guitar and heavy percussion. Overall, an album that will establish Landry as being at the forefront of contemporary Americana.

Jane Kramer ‘Carnival Of Hopes’ - Self Release

Her debut album was rooted in folk music but for her second album has taken that music as a foundation to build on. At the heart, these songs come from that tradition but the textures and brushstrokes are broader. Producer Adam Johnson embellishes the songs with the sounds of brass, keyboards upright bass and drums as well as a selection of guitars, dobro, mandolin and banjo.

Kramer has a voice that has a number of tones within its range that give the songs their personality. No doubt an extension of Kramer herself. She is the author of all the songs here other than Down South which was written by Tom Petty. A good choice that fits well with her songs and is in itself a standout that highlights the strength of Petty’s melodic writing. A highlight of her own writing is the song Good Woman, outlining the negative qualities of the lady in question who herself understands the reasons, but who would still like to be a good woman.

In other songs she looks for Truth Tellin’ Eyes, for Truck Stop Stars and truth learned from Highways, Rivers & Scars but all with a need to explore the Carnival Of Hopes. Songs that build around such emotions, use that folk setting to create the heart of the songs while the acoustic instruments entwine with the rhythm section and effective use of occasional jazzy brass (Why’d I Do That Blues). All of which makes for an interesting album that rewards a closer listen and suggest that Kramer is an artist who will steadily grow.

The Nouveaux Honkies ‘Blues For Country’ - Self Release

The title track outlines the perceived dilemma for the band on the opening song. Deciding that they are too blues for county and too country for the blues. Not however that many listeners will have that problem with this accomplished band. Fiddle is well to the fore as are the voices of the band founding duo Tim O’Donnell and Rebecca Dawkins. They are rounded out by Pat Manse on percussion, Nate Rowe on double bass and guest Lloyd Maines on pedal steel for three songs.

The blues side of what they do however is not predominately evident and the honky tonk side is the one that largely holds sway. The blues is an influence in the way that jazz was a big part of western swing but that music still had its own individual identity. The duo’s voices blend well together and Dawkin’s violin is a mainstay of the sound of a band of very accomplished players. The songs are a mix of originals (largely by O’Connell) and some covers such as a straight up but evocative version of Townes van Zandt’s Pancho and Lefty.

The couple have been plying their trade for some time now and their extended life on the road is the subject of several songs from the title through Life Ain’t Easy and Two Doors Down From Paradise - a song which features twice at the end of the album with the reprise version being an extended instrumental coda that runs as one continuous piece. It’s a tale of recovering from the of work and unwinding  from a previous night and slowly getting one’s self back to a place where function and reason returns  - at least till that night.

The Nouveaux Honkies play around Florida and surely have built up a following in the region but on the strength of this, their latest album, could easily gain a wider following. They are not a retro recreation of the sound of an earlier era but rather have developed a sound that is grounded in a traditional sound but one that incorporates sounds from other genres and times to create something that is distinctive and a delight.

Lori Yates ‘Sweetheart Of The Valley’ - Self Release

This album finds Lori Yates at her best and in total control of her creative output after the experience of being signed to a major label (CBS) in the US back in 1989. Then the Steve Buckingham produced album had songs from interesting writers like Nick Lowe, Paul Kennerely alongside some co-writes from Yates herself. It was a fine debut but didn’t take her to stardom. Now it would seem she is continuing making traditional sounding country music and doing so with heart and soul and doing it her way.

For this album, which was produced by Yates and David Gavan Baxter, she teamed up with the members of Hey Stella. They were a band that Yates was a member of from the late 90s to the 2002. That included Baxter as well as Blue Rodeo bassist Bazil Donovan and drummer Michelle Josef who played with Prairie Oyster. Add to those players such guests as Steve Wood on pedal steel and guitarist Stephen Miller and you have a pretty ace unit to deliver Yates songs.

Here Yates particularly shines with her own songs with her measured, focused and thrilling voice. One that has matured into a distinctive and individual instrument. The songs range from Trouble in the Country which reflects on her time in Nashville and a less than welcoming meeting with Billy Sherill. Then aside from some effective ballads there are more up-tempo rockabilly tempered workouts. Much of which reflects the more open attitudes that prevailed in the mainstream as the 80s turned to the 90s and wider range of influences broadened the horizons of the genre with losing sight of its traditional base.

There are many highlights here from the effective guitar that underscores Call My Name to Corktown where Yates’ voice is joined by a chorus of Tequila lubricated throats recorded live in a hospitable tavern. There are songs that come from a very personal place such as Shiloh about meeting her father for the first time when she was 40. The atmospheric What The Heart Wants is another brooding ballad that conveys a desperate passion with conviction. 

Sweetheart of the Valley is an excellent album all round and just makes you wonder just how much such good music can pass you by. But don’t let this one do that as it is very easy to fall for this particular sweetheart.

Texas Martha and The House of Twang ‘Long Way From Home’ - Self Release

This Texas born singer songwriter now lives in Bordeaux in France. There she fronts her own band The House Of Twang and they play an intoxicating blend of country, country rock, blues and folk, a true amalgamation of American roots music. An acoustic sideline is to be found with Mountain High, a band she also fronts. She is planning a new release later this year but her current album Long Way From Home is a summation of her music to date.

Martha Fields Galloway has written all ten songs here and fronts the band playing acoustic guitar and delivering with a strong vocal presence found throughout the album. The album was recorded in France and the band provides bass, drums, guitar, pedal steel and keyboards. They open with the driving riff of Born To Boogie a strong statement of intent. There then follows a selection of songs that are all powered by a tight energy that musically covers all the bases mentioned.

The title track takes the foot off the throttle for the first part of the song before picking up the pace. Lover’s Lane is a ballad that looks at the journey love can take you on. Johanna has some nice Hammond and is a mid-paced reflection on a person’s life. That mood is continued on Streets Of Bordeaux an ode to her new home sung partly and appropriately in French. One of the best vocals on the albums is delivered in Where The Red Grass Grows, a song that is about place and purpose.

Of the final three songs Strike has a bluesy, bar-room feel while Do As You Are Told has some effective pedal steel guitar for a song that asks that the lady in question follows the dictate of the title. Like the opening song the closing title Gotta Move has a solid groove that’s suits the title and the traveling on nature of the lyric. Overall a very commendable album that hits all the right notes and sets Martha Fields up for her next Texas recorded album Southern White Lies. She is making music that keeps on movin’ on.

Eric Church ‘Mr. Misunderstood’ - EMI

One of the more engaging of the current crop of Music Row mavericks Eric Church has delivered an unheralded album which arrives with no credits at all in the booklet. The only clue to the content style may be the Les Paul guitar featured in one of the photographs. Those credits however can be found online. The production is by Jay Joyce a producer often noted for his more edgy productions. However it is only on checking the lyrics online on his website that you can confirm that Church has a hand in all these songs. The sound is more towards a more heartland rock feel than anything traditionally country. There are no hints of pedal steel or fiddle here. Banjo being the only obviously non rock instrument to feature.

Given all that it is a strong album that continues Church’s progress to a more mainstream, crossover rock orientated sound with a more roots related feel to some tracks. Nothing wrong with that of course and this is a place where his audience is happy to follow him to. He underlines this, to a degree, in the title track where he identifies with those who were “always left out, never fit in”. The song also makes reference to Elvis Costello, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Jeff Tweedy while stating a love for his daddy’s vinyl collection. In Record Year another song that makes reference to musical influences he pays tribute to some country legends Jones and Jennings, Hank and Willie Nelson as well as James Brown in a song where a bad relationship sees the protagonist turn to his records for some much needed sympathy and salvation.

It is only by track 6 with Round Here Buzz that the song takes on a more obvious roots/country feel. Holding My Own is another song that has a less intense feel and again makes reference to loving blues and soul music while holdin’ his own space and track position. The album closes with Three Year Old wherein he looks to the simple needs and wants of a three year old to learn something for his own life. Its understated delivery closes the album on a note that resonates more quietly rather than ringing the ears that some of rockier tracks might. Mr. Misunderstood may well help Eric Church to a wider understanding of his aims, views and musical outlook. Something that he seems to have taken control of. Which can be no bad thing overall.