Audrey Auld 'Tonk' - Reckless

" I have lived my whole life to get to this point" Audrey Auld states in the accompanying press release and Tonk is,  indeed,  a career highpoint. In some ways it places her right back to the territory of her first release Fallen. This is the most directly country-orientated release she has done in some time, in what has been a varied and interesting career that has seen her play folk, roots, singer/songwriter with hints of blues and more - Americana in general. All of it has been believable and honest. It comes from a Tasmanian and Auld has listened, loved and learned this music both from the outside looking in and the inside looking out.

She has always managed to mix the hard facts of life with underlying humour and hope. The songs move from the considered pain of Crying the Blues (written by Willie P Bennett) to a funkier upbeat dissertation on her current home town Nashville. There are two songs bearing that city's name: The first is upbeat and the second a fiddle-led lament for the fate of a singer trying to find fame and fortune in Music City. Rack Off is a riposte to those who may not understand her or generally manage to displease or annoy the fiery feminist. There is a another version of this song available as a download and one side of a 7" single where Rack is replace with another four letter word beginning with F. You have been warned. You mess with this lady at your peril.

Her home in East Nashville has meant that she had been able to call on the city's finest to play with her on this album and given their strengths and talent she has delivered perhaps her finest vocal performance to date. But when you stand in front of Kenny Vaughan, George Bradfute (the album's co-producers) and such players as Fabulous Superlatives Harry Stinson and Paul Martin to steel players Chris Scruggs and Gary Carter along with Andy Leftwich, you bring your game face.

The album title is endorsed by songs like Drinking Problem, Lonely Town, Broken Hearted Woman and Sweet Alcohol. The latter the album's second cover song,  written by Terry McArthur. This is balanced by the humour of Your Wife and Bury Me at Walmart. It sees the  lady wishing to be interred in a certain spot in the store so that the object of her desire can see her everyday. Auld is adept at getting these emotions into a song in a direct way that leaves no doubt to what the song is all about.

This is an all round great album. It is rooted in traditional country music but is never backward looking. The playing and the singing are focused and sharp. The songwriting is well thought out. However it is, above all, great fun. A great listen. It certainly honks my tonk. 

Sturgill Simpson 'High Top Mountain -Thirty Tigers

Count Simpson among a handful of like-minded acts like Dave Gleason, Moot Davis, Mike Stinson, Tillford Sellars, Daniel Romano and veteran torch bearer Marty Stuart who want to play, write and perform classic country music in a way that the powers that be neither want or seem to accept anymore.

These 12 original songs are steeped in the sound of the past but are given a jolt of today's energy that takes them out of pastiche or parody and into something more relevant. Yes I have heard the arguments that country music must change to survive, but I question when the survival throws the baby out with the bath water. I have never met a Taylor Swift fan who has discovered real country music through Swift’s tunes. It reminds me of the excuses given that line-dancing would expand the country audience, which is something that I never found to be the case.

Back to the music that Sturgill Simpson has recorded on his debut album; pedal steel is well to the fore,  and when it is played by Robbie Turner you know you're in safe hands. Add the piano of Hargus "Pig" Robbins and the other fine players and you understand these guys know exactly what they need to deliver. Recorded at Hillbilly Central and Falling Rock studios and produced by Dave Cobb, who has helmed a wide range of music as producer, guitarist and bassist. Here Cobb has given the songs what they need; warmth, clarity and energy. There are subtle uses of Mellotron strings on some tracks to give them a touch of countrypolitan. Speaking of which; whatever happened to the great Mike Ireland who explored that sound some years back?

The songs are all written about the concerns of being a working musician, the working man and someone who is working out relationships and reasons to be who he is. The title of the opening song kind of sums the album up in many ways Life ain't Fair and the WorldiIs Mean. A song like Old King Coal considers the life of a miner. Sitting Here without You is classic heartbreak. And so it goes across this eminently playable album. 

Sturgill Simpson comes from a small town in Kentucky and the album is named for a cemetery where many of his family are buried,  but as the cover illustration indicates this is not in any way a depressing collection.  Rather, there is a positivity and colour to the performance that rings of integrity. He has a voice that echoes other classic country singers (not least Waylon Jennings) but one that will be become as distinctive as his heroes given time.