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Looks Can Be Deceiving
....(Hand Carved Music)
The cover of this CD pictures 2 comely lasses, but the music is by 5 talented, yet less attractive Okalahoma men. Thus the cute title, but the pleasant surprise is that this is a great, fun band! They not only have a sense of humor but two fine songwriters who also have great voices. They're rockin' mostly-acoustic sound features a good fiddle player, and a tight professionals all around. These guys have spent many late nights in the "Okie" bars. Their CD is self-recorded and released so you may have to call or write them for copies. But it's worth the effort, if only to hear the uniquely-named yet infectious song "Crazy Stupid Bitch"!
Released in '97. Reviewed by Bill Frater. Best songs: Do You Feel It Too, Kill The Pain, Crazy Stupid Bitch, Stella & Dave. Order direct from the band at 400 W. Edmond Rd, Suite 6E, Edmond, OK. 73003 or call them at (405) 341-5449...or e-mail them for info:

The Duct Tapes... (Parhelion)
Paquin is a definite throwback to the golden age of country. Sitting somewhere in the middle of Robert Earl Keen, Willie Nelson, George Jones and Bob Wills sits Paquin, happy to be there and yet talented and skittish enough to keep switching his style song by song. His vocal style reminds one of another legend, Roger Miller, with a little Wills mixed in for good measure. His songs are very jazzy, towards Western Swing and should appeal to fans of that genre as well as to folks loving classic country like Nelson, Cash and Jones. For those looking for redneck rock masquerading as country, be warned - none of that here. This is well-mannered stuff. And done real well, to boot.
Check out Joe's website.  Order the CD from Miles Of Music.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood

House of Mud... (Trailer)
From the first song, the title track "House Of Mud", Pardekooper's swaggering drawl grabs you and holds you, forcing you to listen for the duration of the CD much like John Fogerty's singing with Creedence Clearwater did decades ago. The title cut also sets a kind of swampy, low-key growly mood that seems to scream New Orleans bayou. While Pardekooper is singer and songwriter on this set, the guitar playing and production work of Teddy Morgan does a lot to set the mood of this CD, his trenchant and primal riffs lending an air of immediacy and danger to the proceedings. At least in the beginning of the CD. As the CD progresses, Pardekooper varies his sound a little by paring down, losing some band members (including Morgan) and doing a few songs with very little backing. The last two songs see Pardekooper returning to the band set-up and ending the CD on a swaggering note. Pardekooper has definitely made a decent CD here and from now on I'll be keeping an eye on his career. I can see him doing something classic in the future.
Trailer Records. Order from amazon Released Aug.'02. Reviewed by Scott Homewood

Haymaker Heart… (Leisure Time)
This Iowa native lives in Nashville now and has paid enough dues to deserve a break. His sound is straight-ahead Roots Rock 101. His smokey vocal style recalls Peter Case or Ray Wylie Hubbard. His baseball hat and white T-shirt look on the front cover conveys an honest ”I don't take no shit” attitude. His “Folk This” is a straight slap in the face at John Mellencamp and others who try to jump on the folk-roots bandwagon. He has a tender side where his songwriting really comes out on songs like “Tell Me (You're the One)” and “Too Late”. Pretty great stuff here, John “Cougar” could use a few of these songs!
Pardekooper's website. Order from CD Baby. Released Jan. 2005, reviewed by Bill Frater.

United We Stand... (Wrecked Em)
Saturday Night Live fans may remember a skit on a show that aired in the beginning of the ‘90's. I can't remember who was featured in the skit (I think it was one of the guest hosts) but the gist was basically a "greatest hits" album of drinking songs sung by a country singer who was obviously an alcoholic. At the time it seemed like a takeoff on George Jones and other singers of his time who made livings off of songs about drinking. After listening to Bill Parker and his band, it seems like Parker saw the same skit and decided to take it to heart. This CD is filled with the kinds of songs that skit had sued as parodies. Check out these titles: Drinkin' Alone, Keep My Glass Filled, Precious Blood, Lay Down and Die. The list could go on. To add icing to the cake, all of these songs feature Parker singing in a seemingly alcoholic stupor or disheartened with the voice seemingly on the verge of ending it all. While you might think the tons and tons of pathos might make the CD humorous in a dark, barfly-sorta way, you'd be wrong. This is desolation personified. I like it but I wouldn't play it around anyone taking any Prozac. It just might seal the deal.
Their website has ordering info. Reviewed by Scott Homewood .

My Country… (Bloodshot)
Parker was one of the "angry young brits" (along with Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson) in the late great 70's pop punk era. He and his old band (The Rumour) always had a rootsy pub-rock kind of sound and Parker's songs were poignant and tuneful. He moved to the States at some point and has continued to put out the occasional CD. 1991's Struck by Lightning even pointed towards the acoustic sound that this new one expands on. I'm guessing that fellow Welshman Jon Langford might led him to "our own" always-vital Bloodshot Records. Parker actually doing a few songs that sound pretty twangy, and Alt.Country "queen" Lucinda Williams even joins him on "Cruel Lips". His cover of the Dead's "Sugeree" really works too. Like most of us, Graham Parker has mellowed with age, although his familiar raspy drawl of a voice is still intact. This may be the best example of an old "punker" going country since Costello's King of America.
A nice GP fan site includes postings by Parker himself and more. Bloodshot's page. Order from amazon. Released March, '04. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Back To The Well... (Universal South)

Lee Roy Parnell plays a whole lot of guitar(s) on his new one, conjuring Duane Allman and Lowell George with his guitar lines, his slide. There's even a hint of Dan Penn in his vocal style, songwriting. The title cut is southern fried, dripping with groove. Parnell uses his natural, melodic vocal style to advantage, sounding like an old friend. After the drive of the opener, things mellow down some, and Parnell personalizes the record. It's all easy to listen and tap a foot to. I could say, opener aside, that no particular cut stands apart from the rest – or I could say that the sings all dovetail nicely. Let's go with the latter.

Lee Roy's site. Order from amazon. Released March, '06. Reviewed by Doug Lang.

The Complete Reprise Sessions… (Reprise/Rhino)

Gram Parsons has become quite a legend through the years, in part due to his too-early drug-influenced death. Would he be legend if he still lived today? Probably not, but there's still no denying he was a unique and passionate musician who did some great work in his short recording career. He fused country and rock in a unique fasion decades before Americana became a music genre. This collection includes the full versions of Gram's 2 solo albums, GP and Grievous Angel, which introduced the world to the voice and exquisitely intuitive harmonies of Emmylou Harris. According to one of the audio interviews included in this set, Chris Hillman heard Emmy first and recommended her to Gram. There has always been some mystery about Emmylou's place in the Gram Parsons story, her life is ripe for a great autobiography. She co-produced this collection and she shares more of her memories from this era than I've ever heard before. The 3rd disc is mostly unmixed alternate versions of songs from the 2 albums, in most cases either the versions were very similar to the originals or inferior takes. If you know the original arrangements by heart, like me, it's interesting, but not something you'll listen to very often. Rhino released the 2-disc Gram Parsons Anthology in 2001, which spanned his whole career, and many songs are shared with this set. Both are worth having for Gram fans but the booklet alone with Emmylou's stories is worth the price of this 3-CD set.

Rhino's GP page. Order from amazon. Released June, '06, reviewed by Bill Frater.

The Grass is Blue.... (Sugar Hill)
The only full album of Dolly Parton I've ever listened to is duets with Porter Wagoner so I can't call myself any kind of informed expert on the subject.  I'd like to blame it on the water but the truth is that while I've always appreciated her singing and her songwriting, I somehow never enjoyed the two together.  So when this new release on Sugar Hill came straight to me, I decided to redeem myself...  She's  taken some great bluegrass tunes and given them a comfortable Dolly-twist which has rendered them a little more relaxed than the average bluegrass tune.  The best of musicians, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Stuart Duncan, Bryan Sutton, Jim Mills and Barry Bales, give Parton all the room in the world to bring these songs a vitality that only her wonderful tremolo can inspire and yet, to hear them tell it, she did them and everyone a favor.  I agree with the boys, it's a fine and easy-to-listen-to-collection of original Parton tunes in addition to songs by Lester Flatt, Hazel Dickens, Louvin Bros, Johnny Cash and more.  It's a keeper.
Sugar Hill has a nice site.  Released Oct. '99, reviewed by Kay Clements (KWMR).

Little Sparrow... (Sugar Hill)
Like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard, Dolly Parton is making some of her best music late in her career. Who'd of thought that one of the best bluegrass records of 2000 would come from Dolly Parton? And after that very satisfying artistic achievement, how could she top it? Well, she has. Little Sparrow is flat out gorgeous. Seems like Dolly's been paling around with Alison Krauss and Clarie Lynch (both of whom are in high profile on this CD) and has caught the bluegrass bug. She is ably assisted by the cream of bluegrass session players, including Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Bryan Sutton, and Chris Thiele. The songs are a mix of strong cover tunes and some of Dolly's best original material in years. If you liked last years The Grass is Blue, or if you like the newgrass/old-time/swing/pop approach of the aforementioned Krauss & Lynch, you're gonna love Little Sparrow. I do.
Sugar Hill Records. Released Jan. 2001.  Reviewed by Kevin Russell.  

Dogsbody Factotum... (Madjack)
Like many of the newer bands (Charlotte's Lou Ford comes to mind) the music of the Pawtuckets shows the effects of mixing the timelessness and nuance of Hank Snow's pure country twang with the post-punk sensibilities of Nirvana and the pure power of Rancid. This is country music for the apocalypse and straight from my lips: I loves this shit! By both ignoring and embracing the roots of country music (and punk as well, it seems) the young guns of Pawtuckets create raunchy country punk-rawk  music that would be just as at home at a biker rally beatdown as it would at a back porch kegger. If that bunch of crazy little wild-kids in Logan's Run listened to music, the Pawtuckets would be their favorite band. They're already one of mine! is fun and well designed with audio, gigs and T-shirts!  Order the CD from Miles Of Music. Reviewed by Scott Homewood

Fenceposts... (Peach-Key)
This long-haired band out of Ft. Worth, TX has put out an extremely ambitious 2 CD concept piece called Fenceposts. Their sound is basic jam-band but they use a lot of acoustic instruments. Lots of little instrumentals mixed in amongst the 37 songs. I'm not quite sure what the whole thing's about, history and growing up I guess. Although it's varied and pretty interesting, Tommy it ain't. I would've been just as happy with a single CD.  They do get extra credit for having the largest press packet that I think I've ever seen, a binder with over 30 pages about the project.
Check out the band's website, Order the CD from Released Nov. '00, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Okra and Ecclesiastes... (Gatorbone)

Peeples is a a self-described “LeftNeck” from the Florida Panhandle who has a unique outlook on the modern day Southern experience. He lived on an island off the Coast of Nicaragua for eleven years and upon returning home he had a new perspecitve of his native land. The South that includes Wal Marts and  NASCAR, “Catfish and flatbeds, sweat stains and retreads, Okra & Ecclesiastes,” thus the title, from the lead-off track, "My People Come From The Dirt." When he writes about sneaking out late at night with a married woman... “we could not go to your place and we sure can’t go to mine, So we’re out here going at it, parked beneath these Powerlines.”  You get the idea he just may have lived it, you can’t make this stuff up. Producer Gurf Morlix is the perfect match for Grant’s powerful lyrics. Gurf plays guitars, bass and keys, and with the help of drummer Rick Richards brews a smoldering mix. At times Peeples sounds like a cross between J.J. Cale and Greg Brown. Underneath it all he hides a deep intelligence that come across on “Down Here in the Country” where he name-drops Faulkner, Kafka, Fellini, Harper Lee and more.  And then a deeply sensative side on "I'll Never Love Again." Trust me on this one... this album will get 'under your skin' on many levels.
Grant's site. Order from CD Baby. Released March, '11, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Get Up... (Socan)
Americana doesn't have to come from America, and Canadians Cam Penner & The Gravel Road prove it beyond doubt. These are songs written from the experience of life. The opening track grabs you right off with the Rhodes piano licks and brings you into Cam's life, and you won't leave until you've suffered through bad relationships, bad jobs, and shared in the joy of life. The songs are longer than the usual 3:02 radio fare, but well worth the extra minute or two each. Highlights include the shuffling "Gravel Truck," "Met Her On A Monday," and the heart-wrenching "Drunken Fights."
The Gravel Road is their site. Order the CD from Miles Of Music. Released Sept. '03. Reviewed by Clint Weathers.

Gypsy Summer... (self released)

What if Neil Young never left Canada?  He just might sound like Alberta’s Cam Penner... with a dash of JJ Cale thrown in. Soulful roots rock with thoughtful lyrics is what Penner is all about. This is his fourth release, self-producing and playing many of the melody instruments, his vision is focused and absolute. There still is a feeling of a band effort especially on the few tracks like “Ghost Car” that build up to a smoldering groove. Recorded at the beautiful Cloudy Ridge Ranch in Twin Butte Alberta, I strongly recommend viewing the 4-part series of Cloudy Ridge YouTube videos. His songs contain hidden lyrical gems like on the gorgeous “Flesh & Bone” he laments “And hope won’t do you no good, just live the life you should, and lean towards the good.”  I know that Neil has his die-hard worshippers  but I think he’d would be damn proud to put out an album as good as  Gypsy Summer. Penner is a great songwriter and deserves to be heard by more!
Cam's site. Order from CD Baby. Released Sept. '11, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Nowhere is Now Here... (Catapult)

This is my first exposure to Angela Perley & The Howlin' Moons.   They have 3 previously released EPs.  I was quite impressed with this Columbus Ohio band.  The band sounds very tight and the songwriting is solid.    The first thought that comes to mind how much Angela sounds like some of the "classic Nashville country queens", but with a very solid mean streak.  Don't get me wrong, this is meant as a very positive trait.  Angela wrote all of the 5 songs on this EP and she definitely did not write the same song 5 times.  I love diversity in song writing and this short EP is loaded with diversity.  Starting with the smooth and twangy "Brooklyn Girls" and winding through good girl gone bad, "County Fair".  "18 Feet Under" is a kick butt rock & roll track with great guitar work by lead player Chris Connor.   At times these song take you to a hot July night in a backroom bar with no AC and lots of sweat, and then it transitions to pure innocence and introspection on  a cool September evening on the kitchen floor.  Looking forward to hearing more from this fine bunch of musicians.

Angela's site. Order from Amazon. Released Nov. '12, reviewed by Don Parsons.

The New Punk Blues... (Split Rock)

Pettersen has been working “under the radar” for over ten years, releasing 5 albums on his own and slowly finding his musical identity. The New Punk Blues is one big step closer as his songs reach a new maturity with a touch of politics. The whole CD sounds raw, honest and unadorned. The subtleties of his voice work better on the acoustic ballads while the rockier tunes feature his passionate wail. He gets some help from Reggie Young, the great Memphis guitarist who played on hits like "Cry Like a Baby" and "Suspicious Minds", but it's all Ed's show. He brings it together on the smoldering “Burning Up” (no pun intended) about regrets from his past. Watch this guy, he's still got more tales to tell.

Ed's website, and My Space page. Order from Amazon. Released Jan. '07, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Shine Eyed Mister Zen.... (Rykodisc)
Kelly Joe travels a bit farther down his unique path of spiritual blues and "twisted folk music", as he calls it.  Like the Blues masters whom he emulates, Kelly Joe uses just his guitar, either finger-picking or with a slide, to weave a mystical web of acoustic music that is almost haunting.  Since his last album his voice has developed beyond a growl to exhibit more confidence and grace and there are more upbeat songs here too.  There's a few more original songs, but even the well known songs he covers sound new when Phelps gets done with them.  This is peerless music that one hears with one's soul as much as with one's ears. 
Best tracks: House Carpenter, River Rat Jimmy, Hobo's Son, Dock Boggs Country Blues, Train Carried My Girl From Town.There is a KJP website... Rykodisc has a page on Kelly Joe, including tour info and and ordering information on an instructional video... Released July, '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Chickaloon... (Skip Tooth)

OK, check the release date; talk about being a day late and a dollar short! But, another old saying: good things are worth waiting for, and this one just came my way in the last couple of weeks. No mea culpa here. Evan Phillips is a mountaineer/musician from Alaska, and if he's as good at the former as he is at the latter, then he must be the Alaskan Sir Edmund. There's a temptation to compare this guy to Ryan Adams, but let's just say that he's perceptive, a damn good songsmith, melodic, and possessed of an ear for a good hook, in the vein of Adams, without the in-your-face attitude. He's also one of the mainstays of The Whipsaws, a couple of whom participated in this recording, a band that provides him with an avenue to give vent to his rockier, Alt.Country side, but that's a different review. His ability to weave a musical tapestry is remarkable considering his youthful appearance. That skill more often than not comes with a lot of age and experience, and, I can't help but admire the cojones and humility of a guy who can say about his songs: “if you borrow them, play ‘em better than I do”. Now that would be a pretty tall mountain for someone to climb...

Evan's web site. Order from CD Baby. Released Sept. 2004, reviewed by Don Grant.

Virginia Creeper ... (Zoe/Rounder)
Phillips once led Grant Lee Buffalo, one of the better Alt.Rock band from the 90's. Since then, he has been slowly and tactfully turning towards a country sound. No, not Nashville country, but fine steel guitar laden intelligent country. His singing is too good, the arrangements are too well thought out, and the songs are far too haunting. I don't think there's any room in between the two. Grant-Lee Phillips truly knows how to tell a story with his songwriting, and his stories draw you in deep. Phillips is able to find little dark places in the human experience and write about them in a way that doesn't leave you on the outside looking in with pity - you're right there experiencing the cultural assimilation of a young Creek Indian girl, the last minutes of a suicidal young debutante, and the blackest loneliness that can only be found on I-70 at 3 AM. When people complain about the death of authentic country music, hand them this CD and tell them to stop looking for it in Nashville.
Order from amazon. Released Feb. '04. Reviewed by Clint Weathers.

Still Night... (self released)
After listening to this CD several times, I just have to say: "Zach, whatever you do, don't jump! Come down off that ledge, let's have a beer and talk. Life may be desperate at times, but it's never serious". On this, his second self-released CD, Zach Phillips displays a good command of the subtleties of the songwriting craft; intelligent and thoughtful lyrics are woven around original melodies, and each song is a complimentary package of that delicate balance between vocals and instruments that is the hallmark of the gifted singer/songwriter. My only complaint with Still Night is that the focus herein is too narrow. This album is just too somber and angst-ridden for extended listening. It tends to concentrate excessively upon relationships gone bad, and introspective reflection, which is fine, if that's what your Muse dictates, but, out of twelve tracks, there is only one, "Brightest Star", that exudes positive vibes? While some artists can build an entire career around minor keys and melancholia, (quick now, name a totally upbeat Neil Young tune), that niche isn't for everyone. I'm hoping that, with this release, Phillips' inner demon has been sated, and, next time around, he can devote some of his considerable talent to less pensive material. Songs such as "I Wanna Know Why", and "I've Lost My Heart", prove that he's got the tunes, all he needs is the feeling.
Zach's web site has lyrics and his own notes on each song. Available at CD Baby. Released February, 2004, reviewed by Don Grant.

... (Welding Rod)

This guy has been compared to The Boss and Steve Earle, amongst others, and the reasons are obvious at first listen. His ability to give a voice to the unheard and ignored of society is uncannily precise, or perhaps, surgical; he cuts right to the heart of his subject matter. Summerbirds is his fourth release, but it's a first for this corner, and if its antecedents are half as good, it's a mystery how they could have been missed. For example, “Trouble Girl” is a simply gorgeous song, ditto for “Something In Spanish”. If there's any fault that could found, it's that the disc ends far too soon, but that's what the repeat function is for on your player. Or, better yet, just snag the rest of his library and make an evening out of it.

Rod's site, and MySpace.Order from Amazon. Released Oct. '07, reviewed by Don Grant.

Welding Burns... (self released)
From the first line of any given song on this collection, Rod Picott plunges us without warning into a world of desperately hard living—a worksite way more real than the generic Budweiser Time drivel of Music Row pseudo-anthems. It’s a world of acetylene spark burnt holes in a drawer full of pocket T’s, of collecting your shift money with a carpet knife, of a bottle under the seat, of dreams of a better life curdling into dreams of payback, of screw guns whining and jobs moving overseas, and through it all, love struggling like a flower pushing up through a crack in the blacktop. It’s so real it’s almost hallucinatory, Johnny Paycheck meets Baudelaire. The man hasn’t forgotten where he’s been, and he has the art to make it live. It’s hard truth, and as truth, it’s beautiful. The vocals leave nothing to chance, and with supple, sensitive support from the likes of indispensable Will Kimbrough on guitars and can’t-believe-how-good-this-girl-is Amanda Shires fiddling and singing, the job gets done. Ten songs that you can’t not listen to, endorsed by the likes Mary Gautier, Rod’s fellow Mainer paisan Slaid Cleaves, Fred Eaglesmith, Ray Wylie Hubbard…’nuff said. Rod Picott. This guy writes remarkable songs.
Rod's website. Order from CD Baby. Released June '11, reviewed by Jeep Rosenberg.

Balladesque... (Moldy Floor)
Straight from the Great White North comes this interesting singer/songwriter who seems to wear his influences on his sleeve, as all great artists do. The comparison I am about to make has been the kiss of death for many artists in the past who have been given this comparison, but Piggins reminds me of Dylan if he had discovered his muse after the British invasion and had been a Beatles and Kinks fan. Yeah, Piggins hits the harmonica hard and heavy, but that's not the only reason for the comparison. He seems to be chasing it himself in the cover art and inner pictures, and while his songwriting isn't as good as Dylan's (whose is?) you can see Zimmy's influence all over these songs. The difference is the melodic lines Piggins is able to coax from his voice, way more advanced than Dylan's and very poppy-sounding. Another comparison would be a folkier Wallflowers, but that brings up Dylan again, doesn't it? I like this, though. Very good songs and a very even mix of folk and countryish rock that goes down real smooth. has bio, CD ordering info and more. Reviewed by Scott Homewood

At War With the Elephants (Moldy Floor Records)
Toronto’s Alun Piggins took a roundabout path to arrive at this particular version of his alt/country vision. In a bit over twenty years he’s gone from punk, something called celtic punk, some solo acoustic jaunts interspersed between bands both fair and foul. He’s somewhere between Tom Petty and Neil Young’s Crazy Horse days here with eleven guitar driven tunes that make no reference whatsoever to either wars or elephants, but it sure is a damn catchy title. He has a list of enigmatically titled CDs in his library, but this one tops the list for me, and it serves as a good prelude to his vision.
Alun's site. Buy from CD Baby. Released March, '08, reviewed by Don Grant.

Falling Down Hard... (self-released)
As good as this CD seems to be - catchy melodies, decent production, good performances - it just sort of leaves me flat. While this four-piece band shows they have plenty to offer, I just don't find myself returning to this CD as often as I usually do for CDs that I love. The singing is sort of lacking in personality, but that doesn't totally explain it and I am completely puzzled myself. It may be the proliferation of, roots rocking bands that have sprung up over the past few years or it may be something simple like one killer, distinctive song that the album lacks - but I cannot remember anything from this CD after ten minutes or so. You may like this fine, it has plenty of acoustic guitar and gritty twang, but it falls flat with me. It just doesn't have that unexplainable oomph I like in the music that I listen to. Give it a shot for yourself and see if you feel the same.
Order the CD from Miles Of Music.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood

Fencing Under Fire... (Zain Wayne)
If anyone still doubts that today's roots rock/ artists look to more than the old country artists like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Buck Owens for inspiration, they need look no further than this CD to get confronted with the cold hard facts. Today's artists are just as likely to draw from Buck as from Brian Wilson, The Beatles, or even the latest hip-hop act, hoping to stoke their creative juices or find that special something that makes their music unique. This band is a case in point. The band manages to mix garagey Stones licks and country twang with some drum samples and other modern touches to separate their music from the pack and create something organic and rootsy in nature but still modern and fresh. Most importantly, the songs are good and the sonic touches they've made to expand their audience never overpowers their sound. Your average twang banger may run for the hills but anyone with an open musical mind will enjoy the blending of styles.
Their site is very nicely designed with lyrics, gigs and "capitalism" (merchandise).  Their label's site.  Released April, 2002.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood .

Salute the Majesty of Bob Wills...(Bloodshot)
This is a very rousing CD that features various young guest vocalists covering the songs of the 'King of Western Swing', Bob Wills. I will assume that you already are familiar with his marvelous work with the Texas Playboys. If, somehow you forgot or don't know this music, this collection will help revive or else ignite your interest. Others have done admirable tributes to Wills, most notably Merle Haggard and Asleep At The Wheel. The vocals here are not on a par with those albums, or the great Tommy Duncan for that matter,  but the spirit of Will's music is most definitely here. The band, led by Jon Langford (Mekons, Waco Brothers) is excellent and true to the music. They are all young punk veterans who understand the attitude of Wills' "insurgent" music. There is also a limited-edition double-LP available to showcase Langford's own beautiful cover artwork.  Even if you know and love the originals like I do, you will respect and enjoy this album. If some "country-punker" isn't hip to Bob Wills and becomes a new fan, then great!
Best tracks, (and their vocalists): Home in San Antone (Chris Mills), Trouble in Mind (Jimmie Dale Gilmore), Drunkard's Blues (Kelly Hogan), Across the Alley From the Alamo, (Robbie Fulks), Stay a Little Longer (Neko Case & Bob Boyd), San Antonio Rose (Alejandro Escovedo & Jon Langford). Bloodshot Record's website has ordering  and tour info. Released Oct. '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Speak No Evil... (Drifter's Church)
Like the music on this CD, the title itself is dead-on. After listening, I cannot find one evil thing to say about this album. The singing, both the lead vocals and the harmonies, is simply beautiful. While I wish I could single out the lead singer, I can't because the liner notes credit all vocals to "Pinmonkey" meaning the whole band, I reckon. One thing I can say is the lead singer's voice is so damn crystal clear with just the right amount of twang that it reminds me of some of the Eagles' early hits. Take It Easy, indeed. The music itself is all country a little mainstream, but let me tell you: if this is the mainstream then hand me my bathing suit and get outta my way! It sounds great and can't be any more country. It brings to mind how I would think Gram Parsons and his band would sound if they came out with their first album today. While most of these songs are covers, the band's songwriter/guitarist Michael Reynolds acquits himself well, turning out four gems as catchy and heartfelt as anything I've heard recently. I am real impressed with this release. They've managed to take the best of pure country and turn it into something sweet enough that fan or foe would still love it. This is a great album that wont be leaving my player for awhile.
Released Feb, 2002.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood .

Expeditions... (Clairetunes Music)
Expeditions, Pinnegar's debut CD, is dream long held and finally realized. After retiring from a successful career as an attorney, Pinnegar packed his bags and moved to Northern California to pursue his passion for playing music with friends and writing songs, both of which he is eminently skilled at. The sound is straight-ahead Americana (whatever that is), without a lot of twang. This collection of original songs is delivered in Pinnegar's easy, relaxed style backed by solid Bay Area musicians, Kevin Russell, (Modern Hicks, Lucky Dawgs), Dave Zirbel, (Waybacks), Paul Shelasky, (Lost Highway) and Kent Fosgreen, bass. Expeditions is the result of a talented and thoughtful songwriter and worth taking a chance on.
Order from CD Baby. Released August, '04. Reviewed by Kay Clements.

I Still Get Dressed On Sundays... (Memphis International)
Gene Pistilli, one of the original members of Manhattan Transfer, shows a wonderful command of a little-explored part of Americana. At the intersection of jazz, bluegrass, and country music there is a place where artists like Django Reinhardt, Leon Redbone, and Dan Hicks congregate. Highly literate music, with great chord changes and wonderful playing make this a joy to listen to. The arrangements go from Dixieland to the guitar-violin-bass-drums that defines the genre, a dose of Texas Swing, and on to straight-up Nashville. Highlights include his rendition of "Too Gone Too Long," which he wrote and was recorded by Randy Travis and also a version of the Cahn/Van Heusen classic "All The Way." This CD goes on my "Best Of" list for this year.
Memphis Int'l has a nice bio. Order from amazon. Released April '03. Reviewed by Clint Weathers.

Plank... (Blue Corn Music)
Jeff Plankenhorn knows his music, and after a few listens of his CD Plank, you will too. Plankenhorn moves with grace and style from conjunto-influenced Tex-Mex to B3-laced Memphis soul to straight up harp-driven Chicago blues and folky dobro country. The songs range from the sweet and sad "What You Need" to the Leon Redbone-ish country jazz of "Not Be Lonely" and "Mary Magdelen" that has a harmony and B3 combination that reminds me of Los Lonely Boys. The production done by Plankenorn and Gurf Morlix is really nice, letting the musicianship and Jeff's striking vocals really show through on each of the differing styles. Jeff Plankenhorn's guitar work is very natural, and never sounds forced or contrived. It'd be pretty easy to say his slide work wins the day, but listen again to his finger-picking. It's reminiscent of not only James Taylor's folk-rock but the acoustic jazz of Dan Hicks. If you like your Americana to come from all over America or you just like great picking, this CD should go on your list.
Jeff's site and Blue Corn's. Order from amazon. Released Oct. '03. Reviewed by Clint Weathers.

Band of Joy... (Rounder)
After racking up six Grammy Awards for the collaboration with Allison Kraus in 2007 (Raising Sand), it would be easy enough for Robert Plant to record a follow-up CD, considering the pair had plenty of material left over. But the former Led Zeppelin leader didn’t take the easy path with this effort, and it’s not an easy listen — at least the first few times through. Granted, my first listen was on the seven-hour drive after dropping my son off at college, so it wasn’t the mood-lifting music I had in mind when I picked up a copy at a Starbuck’s in Santa Maria. But give this one a chance. It is dense, moody and at times, yes, uplifting. Plant’s interpretations of the works of Los Lobos, Richard Thompson, Townes Van Zant and traditional American music are infused with the rock and roll, blues and folk influences that have shaped his musical id. The production and collaboration with Buddy Miller give the music a haunting quality, and listening to the two unlock their collective closet of sound is a trip.
Plant's site. Order from Amazon. Released Sept. '10. Reviewed by Barry Dugan.

Song & Dance, Man... (Eminent)
Mike Plume and band, quite popular in their native Canada, recently caught the ear of Monty Hitchcock, Emmylou Harris' ex-manager.  He's now their manager and after Buddy Miller re-mastered it, has released their CD on his new label.   Music-wise, the CD is roots-rock with the occasional "big-guitar"  edginess.  Plume is a good singer, although his voice has that rock 'n roll roughness that reminds me of Bryan Adams.  I know, that's a cold shot and I don't want to sound like an old man here because the songs are really quite excellent, especially when they slow down the pace a little.  At first I thought this was just garden variety rock, but the album has  grown on me so that now it feels quite comfortable like a flannel shirt.
Best tracks: Rattle The Cage, If There Ever Was A Fool, Alcohol, Take Me With You, Rich Man, Silver Lining. The band has their own site,, with tour info and a message board, Eminent Records has a band bio. Released June, '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Home To You... (Nettwerk)

Vancouver, B.C.'s Po' Girl has evolved into a quartet from its original duo configuration in 2002, and it has been quite an evolution. Home To You , the band's third release is an absorbing and enchanting assemblage of thirteen finely crafted and sparsely presented songs that run the gamut from blues through jazz, gospel, folk, and, well hell, there's hardly a musical stone left unturned here. They've got a farm kitchen sound and feel that oozes a multi-instrumental authenticity. Each member is more than qualified to take the lead mike or lead pen, although an absence of credits for the former make it difficult to ascertain who's singing when, but that's a minor derailment: when music sounds this good, it doesn't really matter. Catching them live is the best way to find out, and that shouldn't be too much of a problem as these ladies live on the road. They're in Europe till mid-May and then it's all over North America for the rest of the year, at this writing. If they're within a hundred miles, drive, hitch, or crawl, but do yourself a favour, don't miss them.

Buy from amazon Released Feb. '07.  Reviewed by Don Grant.

Unreleased ... (self released)
First off folks, I’m not sure if Unreleased is a catchy title or a true statement. It doesn’t appear on so maybe it is only available at their shows, which isn’t a bad thing if you’re lucky enough to have them show up in your neck of the woods. This incarnation of the band is a pared down version of last year’s, (the road doth take its toll), consisting of Allison Russell, Awna Teixeira and Benny Sidelinger, and there’s been a bit of a musical shift. It naturally tilts a bit more to the country/folk/Americana side than Home To You. As in that one, the writing and lead roles are shared pretty much equally between Allison and Awna. (One can only assume that Benny’s too busy creating wonderful embellishments for their output and building guitars etc. to take up a pen of his own) Unreleased consists of fourteen originals that showcase a wisdom, perception and grace that is made all the more remarkable by the apparent age of the musicians. I’d bet there’s more than one good autobiography lurking in this band. On a final note, where’s the missing half star if I think so highly of this ensemble? As I said last year, “If they’re within a hundred miles, drive, hitch, or crawl, but do yourself a favour, don’t miss them”, you’ll find it there; their recordings don’t do justice to the real thing. A live album or, better yet, a DVD should be high on their To Do List.
Po' Girls site, as Don said, makes no mintion of this CD... Reviewed by Don Grant.

Leaving Eden… (Yodel-Ay-Hee)
Well first off, the sexy cover: vintage skirts and cowboy boots against a 50's-style tile floor, caught my attention right off the bat. (I know, what's sexy for some people… ) One pair of legs belongs to Laurlalyn Dossett and the other to Kari Sickenberger. They hail from North Carolina but headed down to the Louisiana bayou with producer Dirk Powell. Both women are intelligent songwriters and gorgeous singers, and seamlessly support each other with tight harmonies. In fact, I can't tell Kari's songs from Lauralyn's unless I look at the credits, their voices and songs are that equally strong and complementary. The music is mostly old timey flavored, thanks largely to the amazing clawhammer banjo of Riley Baugus. But there's also a little Cajun and even a delightful dash of classic honky tonk on a few of the songs. The songwriting deals with contemporary relationship matters, aching hearts, unrealized dreams and stubborn men. This is wonderful stuff that goes beyond the usual old timey and singer- songwriter boundries. I remember the chills I had when I first heard Gillian Welch's music, I get that same feeling here, times two.
Their web site has CD ordering, or CD Baby.  Released June, '04, reviewed by Bill Frater

Welcome To Porter Hall Tennessee... (Slewfoot)
Just when you thought (I as well) all country was starting  to go pop, out comes a band with the same impact and dedication to the roots of country music as Dwight Yoakam did when he first emerged in the mid 80's. The two singers of this fine band, Molly Conley and Gary Roadarmel, each write their own songs in a vein very reminiscent of traditional Nashville circa 1950 with a tinge of Telecaster-soaked Bakersfield Buck Owens-feel to boot. The characters in their songs are everyday people trapped in their small towns, their lives trapping them, never allowing them to escape the  confines of where they grew up. It is this misery, pain and ultimately, grudging acceptance to their fate that fills these songs full of resonance. Conley and Roadarmel have both tapped into what must have been their own  dreams and apprehensions to make these songs work but, boy, do they work. These songs are as much the essence of small town life as anything I've heard. If someone tells me no one writes them like Jones and Haggard anymore, I can point them to Porter Hall Tennessee. They'll find the truth.
Check out Slewfoot's site.  Released March 2002.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

Brand New Heart... (self released)
On this CD, the Prairie Dogs, out of Tacoma, demonstrate that electricity is not an essential ingredient, particularly if one's band is blessed with two composers of the caliber of Evan Purcell and Michael Shinn. These guys write thoughtful music primarily for acoustic interpretation, with an occasional and judicious insertion of electric licks, for just that right amount of spice. Of particular note is "Soon As You Are Able", a poignant tale of another dancer, of which we all know too many, lost in that losing waltz with the White Lady. A beautiful harp line imparts just the right degree of melancholia here, and, for me, this song alone is worth the price of admission. In a time when 'mainstream' country artists use the acoustic guitar more as a symbol of their 'country' roots, much like their hats, it is a nice treat to encounter a band that is confident enough in the range of the instrument to build their entire show around it.
The Prairie Dogs site. Order from CD Baby. Reviewed by Don Grant.

Midnight Pumpkin... (Antone's/TMG)
Most of us will buy CD’s all year just in the hope that one or two of them will sound like this one.  Toni Price comes across as the hirsute, tattooed, hippie chick, love child of Delbert McClinton and Lucinda Williams on her new CD Midnight Pumpkin. It doesn’t hurt that she’s backed by a veritable who’s who of Austin bluesicians ("Scrappy" Jud Newcomb, Champ Hood, Casper Rawls, Ian McLagen, and David Grissom).  Not a songwriter herself, Toni has laid down totally contemporary (yet still rootsy), interpretations of the songs of Joe Tex, Blaze Foley, and J.J. Cale, among others.  She adds some rock, rural blues, bluegrass and even a couple of splendid Django-styled acoustic swing tunes. This CD reminds me of the type of albums that Bonnie Raitt used to produce; smart with variety and just a little sass.  This is a winner all the way through.
She has her own site...  Songs samples and ordering info from CDNow  Released June , 2001.  Reviewed by Marty Harper.

In Spite Of Ourselves... (Oh Boy)
To begin with, long-time John Prine fans might be a little put off by this new release.  There is only one Prine-penned song in the bunch, In Spite of Ourselves, the title track.  Though that song alone is worth the price of the CD, most of the other songs are great "twangy" country duets originally done by people with names like George and Tammy, Porter and Dolly or Conway and Loretta.  Not only are these faithful renderings of  classic meetin',  cheatin' and retreatin' songs, but they are all sung as duets with some of John's favorite female country singers.  The great Melba Montgomery is here, (who sang with George Jones), Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Connie Smith and even John's wife, Fiona Prine.  The voice that sounds the best harmonizing with John, (well she sounds good with everybody), is Iris DeMent, who is featured on four of the 16 songs.  I love this album, and I applaud Prine proclaiming his love for these kinds of songs.

Oh Boy Records. Buy from amazon Best tracks: (We're Not) The Jet Set, So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad), Wedding Bells/ Let's Turn Back The Years, Milwaukee Here I Come, I Know One, Back Street Affair, Let's Invite Them Over, 'Til A Tear Becomes A Rose, In Spite Of Ourselves, Dear John (I Sent Your Saddle Home). Released Sept. '99, reviewed by Bill Frater

Souvenirs... (Oh Boy)
The CD is subtitled "Fifteen new recordings of classic songs" and that pretty well sums it up.  Prine rerecorded some of his best-known songs with his touring band for release on a German record label. He was so happy with the results that he decided to also release it in the US, not to mention it probably helps him to retain the rights to his songs. Ten of the songs come from his first 2 classic early-70's albums. Wisely, he didn't mess with the arrangements much, simple backup mostly, and faithful to the originals. After 30 some-odd years and throat cancer surgery, Prine's voice still sounds as good as ever, considering it never was that good. His story-songs still sound touching and sentimental, and comfortable as an old pea coat. If for some reason you don't know these classic tunes, this is worth getting and if you do you'll appreciate getting reacquainted.
Check out Oh Boy's websiteBuy from amazon Released Oct. '00.  Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Fair And Square... (Oh Boy)

“Constantinople's a mighty long word, got three more letters than mockingbird” is a pretty lame use of words to just to find a rhyme. That is unless you're name happens to be John Prine. A lesser mortal would never let such silly wordplay out to the world. And that's part of the brilliance of Prine's writing. He's been doing it so long that he trusts the nonsense lines because they're just a small part of the bigger picture. He's so whimsical and brilliantly absurd that it works, and that's what people love the guy. This is Prine's first release in a whole nine years and his new songs sound like an old dear friend coming back to visit. He's survived throat cancer and lost a few grades on his sandpaper voice, but this is still solid Prine. His signature fingerpicking style is still prevalent and most of the arrangements are relaxed and roomy. There is a timeless quality to his songwriting style. He claims that the words just come to him without him having to do anything, but just write ‘em down. I don't doubt it; even random words like Constantinople can work if the right writer hears it. John Prine is indeed a songwriter's songwriter and we all should be so honest and trusting.

Oh Boy's websiteBuy from amazon Released April, '05.  Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Standard Songs for Average People... (Oh Boy)

This release by veterans Prine and Wiseman doesn't break any new ground. As the title suggests, what these two have chosen to do here is assemble fourteen songs that could be considered standards in the country/bluegrass genre. While everyone won't necessarily have them in their musical libraries, it's almost certain that everyone will recognize most, if not all, of them. Who hasn't heard at least one version of Ernie Tubbs' “Blue Eyed Elaine”, “Old Cape Cod” by Claire Rothrock et. al., or “Where the Blue of the Night”, penned by a collaboration that includes Bing Crosby? As would be expected from two performers of this caliber, the tunes are well executed and come off with nary a hitch. If you're a new listener to this game, by all means pick it up and expand your horizons. However, for most, it's probably a shade on the redundant side.

Oh Boy's websiteBuy from amazon Released April, '07.  Reviewed by Don Grant.

The Problems... (self-released)
Don't know why they named themselves what they did. I see no problem with this band at all! Where most bands lead with electric guitars blazing, this band makes use of a prominent acoustic guitar strum that adds a different, folksy element to their sound. Even when they play a balls-to-the-wall rocker, the acoustic leads the charge with the electric playing a backup role. No matter, the band adds other touches as well, most notably in the form of violin with a little mandolin thrown in to make it even more heartland sounding. Think David Matthews with a Big Daddy-era Mellencamp fixation or Rockpile if Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds had studied Ralph Stanley instead of Chuck Berry. Either way, great stuff, original songs that showcase some great heartland rock and killer melodies that add a pop edge. Rock on, country boys!
The band's website has bio with links to ordering and song samples from CD Baby. Reviewed by Scott Homewood .

No Other Love... (New West)
Possibly one of the most anticipated releases this year, this solo album from the former member of Green On Red does not disappoint. Steeped with backwoods soul ala Hi Records-era Al Green and dusted with some great guitar playing, Prophet brings together an album that very well could be the working definition of Americana music for a long time to come. Prophet continues to grow as an artist, and even though this album is too eclectic to excite the weak-minded mainstream, fans of American music will find much to revel in. Possibly the album of the year.
New West's website. There's a nice Chuck site too!  Buy from amazon   Released June, 2002.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood .

Tragic Songs And Hop-A-Longs... (Stone Legal)
This southern California quintet is neither as psychedelic nor as country as their name might imply. They have some nice twang to their sound embedded in some jangly pop. Led by John Harlan who wrote some very witty tales and sings in a limited Dylan-ish voice. They fool around quite a bit with social commentary songs such as "Life's Great" and "California Country Scene".  It's fun for the short term, but doesn't make me want go back and listen again.
Check out their site,  Order the CD from Miles Of Music.

For The Meantime... (Hay Sale)
stars Lightfoot, Danko, Puddington? Yes. Exceptional roots music (or is it canadianacana) is still finding it's way down from Canada and the long tradition continues with Adam Puddington Strong songs are his calling card, sung in a weathered voice with rootsy backup(including members of alt. country band the Guthries). Inspired by the rural , rainy east coast and recorded in Nova Scotia, Puddington's work belies that the song well hasn't run dry yet .Standout tracks include jangly opener” In My Bones”, the wistful “Standing Invitation” and a haunting “Deer in the Headlights”. Occasionally reminiscent of the roots pop of Blue Rodeo or rainy day sounds of Gordon Lightfoot, I find this evocative disc spending a lot of time in my cd player, well beyond the few “review listens” most cds warrant. It's the kind of music that gets in your bones, like a good story or a cold chill.
Adam's site. Adam's MySpace page, and even Adam doing a live song on You Tube! Reviewed by Michael Meehan.

The Messenger ... (Lightning Rod)
First impressions go a long way. Roots music cognoscenti out there who double as pals of mine can't speak highly enough about singer/songwriter Joe Pug. Hailing from the Windy City, The Messenger is Pug's debut full-length and it's geared to be his breakout release. Only in his mid-20s, Pug's a poet first and foremost and there's little chaff to be found in any of his songs. Set to a backdrop of folk and country, The Messenger sees Pug applies his beyond-his-years baritone to 10 keepers that deliver the goods in spades.
Joe's site, Released Feb. '10, reviewed by Dan Ferguson.

My Turn To Howl... (self released)
While Pullus is an excellent singer and songwriter, one look at the liner notes will tell you why this CD couldn't fail to be excellent: she's got great taste in backing musicians! Former Faces keyboard player Ian MacLagan is all over this record, as is guitarist extraordinaire Scrappy Jud Newcomb and solo artist/great songwriter in his own right Ron Flynt, who also produced and engineered this CD. So, the real question is if all of these excellent musicians somehow take away from Pullus' own efforts. The answer is a resounding no. Besides writing about half of the songs here, Pullus acquits herself very well in the vocal department and carries this whole album on her shoulders, despite all of the help she gets. It is her effervescence, technique and pure emotion that gets the job done and makes this album the success it is. It is ready for radio to these ears and if this album doesn't make it while a total no-talent like Shania's does, then there is no justice in the world of country radio. This will appeal to those who like female-sung country and twang-pop on a line with Martina McBride and Jill Olsen. Great stuff.
Penny's website has CD ordering and the rest. Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

All In Good Time... (Emergent)

Sometimes in life you encounter an old friend that you haven't seen in decades, and, if it's a good friend, you can take up right where you left off, despite the intervening years. Well, that's what All In Good Time feels like. Way back in the early 70s this band made a new and solid impression with its amalgam of country and rock, with the former dominating. Today it's as if all of those years never happened. Pure Prairie League, despite some interesting personnel changes over the years, is still fronted by Craig Fuller, still has that great country-rock sound, and, neat-o!, still features Norman Rockwell's Luke character on the cover art, just like in the old days. No, this one isn't a nostalgia trip that rehashes the glory days of yesteryear; it's a solid collection of twelve new tracks, kicked off with “Getting' Over You”, right in the same groove that first attracted me to “Bustin' Out”, many moons ago in '72. This one has racked up a lot of miles in the vehicle audio system with the driver still attempting to sing harmony, only now with the windows firmly rolled up.

The band's official site. Buy from amazon Released June, '06, reviewed by Don Grant.

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