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RAILBENDERS
Segundo... (Big Bender)
Johnny, Waylon, and Willie ploughed a row that Nashville chose not to follow. Fortunately for us aficionados, there are bands like the Railbenders that continue to seed that row. Hitting the road with the bare essentials of equipment, one guitar, a drum kit, and, one of those wonderful standup basses, this staple of the Colorado club circuit delves beneath the shallow passions of mainstream 'country' music. Theirs is not that 'poor little me music'; it's that 'shit happens, sometimes it's my own fault' brand that acknowledges our human frailties. From too much booze, to love not gotten, and not enough given, the 'Benders evoke a pattern that we can all at least partially admit to, if we're honest. If you can't relate to "Whiskey Rain", or "O.D.'d in Denver", then you're probably tuned to the wrong station here. And, just as you're looking for that railroad track to lay your head upon, they hit you with a rollicking version of Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline", just to remind you that, while life may be desperate, it ain't ever serious, kids. If you can't laugh at the slings and arrows, you've already lost; didn't that guy named Sue say something like that?
Their website has PayPal CD ordering. Released in 2003, reviewed by Don Grant.

RAILROAD EARTH
The Good Life... (Sugar Hill)
Sugar Hill Records has built a reputation for recording America's best bluegrass, and Railroad Earth is among the best of the best. All 12 tracks shimmer with expert musicianship. Never sounding cliche or content to mimic, Railroad Earth is creating new space in the world of bluegrass. Songs like "Mourning Flies" are infused with a maturity to them that reflects their years playing and writing songs together. While they do have a pop sensability about them, it would be a great mistake to compare them to the pop-bluegrass of Nickel Creek or festival jambands like Phish. They are truly original, even when they wear their influences on their sleeves. The songs show the definite influence of their trials, tribulations, and their faiths. The songs like "Bread & Water" ask questions and invite the listeners to answer for themselves in the same way Bob Dylan did -- and at times do it better. When they're not asking questions, they're telling stories that draw the listeners in and create little worlds with words and music as in the song "The Good Life." Some might say the CD is overproduced, but I would disagree. Not all Americana is simple, and Railroad Earth with its six musicians and countless instruments (what IS a Marxophone, anyway?) is a complex organism. Join me in the complex beauty that is Railroad Earth. This CD goes on my Best of List for 2004.

Sugar Hill's page has audio samples. Buy from amazon Released June '04, reviewed by Clint Weathers.


RAINVILLE
Collecting Empties... (Treble Maker)
This young band from Denver, CO knows what they're doing.  I mean, they have many different styles up their collective sleeves for a four-piece band. The central figure is John Common who writes, sings and plays subtle and always appropriate guitar, (lead and rhythm).  His voice is in the gruff school of singers... think Mark Knopfler or maybe Richard Buckner but as with everything else on the CD, it compliments the music perfectly.  Mostly slow to mid-tempo roots rock with dark, lyrical themes balanced by bright melodies. I like 'em. If you liked Nadine's fine 1999 CD or perhaps early Jayhawks, lend an ear to Rainville.
I can't find a website for the band... you can order the CD from Miles Of Music, just type Rainville in their search engine box.  Released early 2000, reviewed by Bill Frater.

RAINVILLE
The Longest Street In America... (self released)
When most country-oriented bands seem to be choosing sides, pop or country, Rainville splits it down the middle and gives us some engaging roots rock fans of Hiatt, Cougar, Springsteen and Kevin Salem will certainly enjoy. Eschewing (except for a few songs) the pedal-steel-and-fiddle tyranny of classic country, Rainville nonetheless conjures up a rootsy vibe with its' judicious use of acoustic guitars and lead singer John Common's (great name for an Americana singer huh?) All-American heartland-steeped voice. Lyrically, the band covers the same ground as the songwriters above, covering topics such as love, heartbreak, and small town values with a heart-on-your-sleeve honesty and forthrightness that is both simplistic and touching. Note that there is nothing new or groundbreaking here but since when does all music have to topple boundaries? Rainville do what they do very well and they do it with a skill and passion most bands would love to have. If you love heartland rock with a strong rootsy vibe ala the artists mentioned above, you should love this CD.
Rainville's website.  Order the album from cdstreet.comReviewed by Scott Homewood.

BONNIE RAITT
Fundamental...(Capitol)
Bonnie became so popular after 1990's Nick of Time that she got a little too comfortable musically with the same sound and same producer and started to sound dull and predictable. She's got a second wind now after some time off and a new confidence to just follow her heart and just do what she wants. Fortunately, what Bonnie wants is what her long-time fans want too, and we all win. Raitt has stretched herself a little on this release and has created an exciting and entertaining CD. It helps having a whole new gang of talented guys to work with, including a couple of Latin Playboys as co-producers that add that seething and clanging sound that works so well with Los Lobos, Suzanne Vega and others. Her core band here not only includes co-producer Mitchell Froom on keys, but also the "Q's" Joey Spampinato, and underrated Attractions drummer Pete Thomas. There's a new spirit and excitement here and her songs reflect the maturity of a woman who cares about her marriage and is willing to look at it square in the face. It's nice to get some of the "old" Bonnie back, but we also have a "new" Bonnie that is changing and willing to grow.
The Official Bonnie Web Site or Capitol's Bonnie site w/ bio, tour info, bulletin board, etc.  Released April, '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

RAMBLER 454
No Name Cafe... (ReadyFireAim)
Thank God!! Another Ohio Band. I'm always glad to support my local heroes. Lots of honest, strong midwest rock-n-roll with just a touch of rockabilly thrown in for flavor. No much fancy schmantzy studio trickery here. Just play it from the heart and cut it in one take. The band has succeeded in capturing the essential qualities that separate heartland, working class music from all the rest They shoot from the hip and wear their hearts on their sleeves. Gotta love it. Well done!!

The band's site. Buy from CD Baby. Released Jan. '04, reviewed by Keith Robb.


ELLIOT RANDALL & THE DEADMEN
Caffeine & Gasoline... (
self released)

With the release of his second independent album, Caffeine & Gasoline, Bay Area-based songwriter Elliot Randall has taken a giant leap forward—and the national stage can’t be out of his reach for too much longer. When I first caught wind of Randall on his 2007 release Take The Fall, I was immediately struck by how this good looking kid of twentysomething had such a good grasp on songwriting to go along with his immediately strong and honest vocals. Having spent much of his childhood with family in the Carolinas, Randall’s love of the twang factor and the craft of songwriting is something he stands proudly behind. “My dad was a Country songwriter, so I guess it’s in my blood,” says Randall. He has the twang turned up a notch or two on the new album, which was produced by David Simon-Baker, and its clearly evident from the one-two opening punch of the title track and the hard shuffling “Oh Miranda.” Be on the lookout for Elliot Randall & the Deadmen, hopefully in your town soon.
Elliot's site. Order from iTunes. Released Feb. '10, reviewed by Rob Bleetstein.

DAVE RAWLINGS MACHINE
A Friend Of A Friend... (Acony)
Rawlings is Gillian Welch's musical partner and the inventive lead guitarist and partner with . No telling where he came from before but he's been with Welch since her first album over 10 years ago. I'd been hearing about his "Machine" for awhile now and I assumed that it was a rock band.  Wrong again... it's full of beautiful melodic acoustic music, the most radical thing being a 10 minute cover of a Neil Young and a Bright Eyes songs, combined! Gillian supports him on every track along with the Old Crow Medicine Show who are excellent throughout.  His voice is thin but he knows how to use it, and Welch complements him just as well as he does her.  The album seems longer than only 9 songs... and it opens and closes with 2 beautiful songs that bring in a string section. Until Gillian Welch puts out a new release this brilliant will CD will just have to do.
Acony's site. Buy from amazon Released Nov, '09, reviewed by Bill Frater.

THE RECIPE
Night of the Porch People...(The Recipe)
This is a  band of talented young long-haired musicians from  West Virginia.  All original well-arranged tunes were written by singers Joe Prichard and Kristen Wolverton, and are sung pretty well.  Fiddler Mark Rapson is featured prominently on the acoustic-based songs.  Song subjects celebrate such things as pot smoking, UFO's and of course, young love.  Me thinks these guys have been inspired more by String Cheese Incident then Bill Monroe, but I've heard worse.  

The Recipe's web site has bios and tour info, full-length RA songs and secure CD mail ordering. Released Fall, '98, reviewed by Bill Frater.


RECKLESS KELLY
Wicked Twisted Road… (Sugar Hill)

There seems to be a trend lately where albums start off slow with a somber ballad rather then the usual upbeat tune. I consider Austin's Reckless Kelly to be a fairly young and rowdy band, but they start this new CD with no less than 3 rather “mellow” songs. I was wondering who neutered these guys. But by the fifth tune, they really get rockin', letting the testosterone roar a little, even pushing it too far into ZZ Top land. Neither extreme really grabs me like the 3 or 4 mid-tempo roots rocker gems that really make their fourth CD a keeper. The band still centers on the brother team Willy (guitar and lead vocals), and Cody Braun (fiddle, mando and harmonies) Willy's voice is very similar to Steve Earle's and on these few songs he even reaches his level of brilliant melodic song craft. This CD'll sneak up on you and won't let go ‘til you fall in love with it.

Reckless Kelly's site, Sugar Hill Records. Buy the CD from Amazon. Released Feb. '05, reviewed by Bill Frater.

PAUL REDDICK
Villanelle... (Northern Blues)

There's this great blues band out of Canada called the Sidemen, and Paul Reddick is their front-man, on vocals and harp. Villanelle is the result of a collaboration between Reddick and guitarist/producer Colin Linden, of Blackie and the Rodeo Kings fame, amongst a plethora of other credits. It is a wonderful collection of old-time blues numbers that range stylistically from the Windy City to the Cajun inflected Delta. Linden's production, using loops and a grainy edginess reminiscent of those old bakelite 78s, gives this one an authentic pre-war, (WWII, the Big One, for younger readers), feel, without sacrificing digital quality. All of the songs were written by Reddick or Linden, but you'd have difficulty differentiating them from period pieces, that's how ‘real' they sound. The instrumentation is sparse, befitting the genre's historical antecedents, as it was created: harp, guitar, mandolin, piano, bass, and drums, with a bonus appearance by Kathleen Edwards on violin. Want to know the best cuts? Can't tell you, they're all that good.

Northern Blues has a Redick bio. Buy from amazon Released Oct. '04. Reviewed by Don Grant.


RED DIRT RANGERS
Starin' Down The Sun... (Lazy SOB)
On this new CD the Rangers balance their own special brand of roots rock with their desire to reach the larger audience their music deserves. To that end, they have enlisted Steve Ripley, the leader and mastermind behind the Tractors, to produce and play on this CD. Ripley's reputation falls on both sides of the coin as he was respected for bringing some genuine roots rock back to the country charts in the mid-'90s but reviled for taking that same roots rock and laboring over it so much as to squeeze the very life out of it by polishing it up with a dreadful studio sheen. Here, he does less damage than on his CDs with the Tractors. While indeed polishing up the Rangers, their distinctive songwriting, full of humor and heart, only allows itself so much room for change. It's pretty much the Red Dirt Rangers through and through, which means rowdy roots rock with minimum grunge and maximum fun. They even have a song on here about a garage sale at a power popster's home (Dwight Twilley's Garage Sale)! Nothing cerebral, nothing that's gonna change the world, but some damn good roots rock with a minimum of fuss.
RedDirtRangers.com  Buy from amazon  Released 2002. Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

RED ROOSTER
Walk....(Wondermore)
This CD by Red Rooster showed up in the pile of CD's a month ago and I was intrigued by the image of a tractor in front of a city skyline.  The music is an infectious reflection of the cover, urban pop melodies played by mostly country instruments.  The New York-based band calls themselves a folk collective, centered around lead vocalist Jay Erickson and guitarist Nat Zilkha, who also share the songwriting.  The other band members play fiddle, steel and banjo that blend amazingly with a small horn section and your standard keys, bass and drums.  Hints of gospel, blues and even a few samples can't keep the twang from shining through.  The album closes with the only cover, Porter Wagoner's "Satisfied Mind, " sung passionately by "ringer' vocalist Susannah Hornsby.  This is Americana music in the broadest sense of the word and that's a good thing. I dare you to not love what these guys in Red Rooster are doing. 
Red Rooster's site, includes "pay what you want" download of Walk. Or order a "hard" copy from CD Baby. Released Sept. '09, reviewed by Bill Frater.

THE RED STICK RAMBLERS
Right Key, Wrong Keyhole… (Memphis International)

The Red Stick Ramblers have a talent for mixing many musical styles. They play a delightful retro mixture of Cajun fiddle tunes, western swing, traditional jazz (à la Louis Armstrong), and even a little blues and honky tonk. They met at LSU in Baton Rouge (get the “Red Stick”?), and Dirk Powell produces this second CD. They band's sound leans heavily on the powerful harmonic convergence of two fiddle players. Lead singer Linzay Young has a fine voice that reminds me of Whit Smith of the Hot Club Of Cowtown. Guitarist Chas Justus wrote 3 of the songs and contributes some tasty solos. They cover Bob Wills ("That's What I Like About the South”), Clifton Chenier and Fats Waller ("Sweet and Slow") among others. That should give you an idea of the diverse range of styles that these five guys cover. Never mind trying to describe them, just pick up the CD and crank it up. Be forewarned, you just might want to move the rug to the side ‘cause your girl's gonna want to dance!

The Rambler's site. Buy from amazon  Released April, '05, reviewed by Bill Frater.

THE REFUGEES
Three... (Wabuho)

Guest fiddler Sam Bush and drummer Scott Babcock supplement the sturdy Americana sound of The Refugees’ Three featuring the trio of Cindy Bullens (guitars, mandolin, harmonica), Deborah Holland (bass, accordion, piano), and Wendy Waldman (guitars, Dobro). While the three singing and songwriting women have years of experience (with 19 solo albums between them!), The Refugees is a Los Angeles-based collaboration formed in 2007.  The distinctive group has spun many heads with their keen ability to build upon each musician’s strengths revolving around songwriting, instrumental prowess, vocal blend, humor and showmanship. A former backup vocalist for Elton John, Cindy Bullens has also written songs, scores and musicals.  A prolific writer, Deborah Holland was the singer and songwriter for Animal Logic, and she currently teaches music at Vancouver, B.C.’s Langara College. Wendy Waldman’s band Bryndle debuted in the 1970s, and she’s also found success as a soloist, songwriter and music producer. Their current aptitude and craftsmanship are fully displayed in the band’s repertoire influenced by folk, blues, country and rock. The cooperative effort may be best displayed in those five songs jointly written and arranged by the ladies (Catch Me If You Can, I Don’t Care At All, 5th of July, Rosalinda, Every Body and Soul). At the same time, tune into each songwriter’s moxie and individualism in their self-penned numbers such as Waldman’s “Can’t Stop Now,” Bullens’ “January Sky,” and Holland’s “My Favorite Joe.” The only song from public domain, “Green Rocky Road,” has been recorded by many including Emmylou Harris, and it’s a perfect cover for a trio that emphasizes sumptuous vocals. It’s a lean song, in a spare setting, to recount the story of Little Miss Jane runnin’ to the ball. The Refugees’ vocals are sure to have the same impact on you.  Building their regional fan base for several years, I think it’s time for The Refugees to put a bigger dent in the public consciousness. “Three” is an impressive effort with considerable vigor and downright brawn. Without too many gimmicks, the music is clever. With a nice final hook, they get their groove on in their closing statements about finding “a way to follow the dream” and “time to put a message on the line.” It could be the story of their lives, careers and music. I’m not sure exactly what The Refugees are fleeing from, but I can tell you that their supple music will find a home on my CD player.

The Refugee website. Buy from amazon Released Dec. 2011, reviewed by Joe Ross.

BOB REUTER & KAMIKAZE COWBOY  
Down in America
... (Magoo)
Can I be a heretic? Can I risk my writing career? Can I go against the bounds of logic and call this album from Bob Reuter and band an exciting mix of country that sounds like Bob Dylan fronting the Eagles? I think I just did! This band takes the precise, tight and well-oiled pseudo-country sound of the early Eagles albums and put the whiny, sometimes-almost-spoken vocals of Reuter doing his best pseudo-Dylan work right on top of it. While I say polished, please don't think sterile. Think Bakersfield tight and polished enough for radio with no extra noodling and no wrong moves. When I say Dylan, think nasally voice and characteristic songs that distill pure emotion with witty wordplay and incisive storytelling. Also  remember both the Eagles and Dylan's love of rock, because there's plenty of roots rock touches as well. Then stop thinking and run out and buy this because you're gonna love it!
Magoo Records Order the CD from Miles Of Music. Reviewed by Scott Homewood

BILLY RAY REYNOLDS
Whole Lot Of Memories... (Compadre)
After glancing at the cover and encountering Reynolds' chiseled, weathered face and his all-knowing, steely eyes, it's easy to see Reynolds has called upon his life-changing experiences as guitarist with Waylon Jennings to shape and hone the songs on his new CD into some of the best old-style country music possible given today's sound standards. And classic country is definitely what you get. You know, you can't run a mile today without bumping into a bunch of young guys trying to play Bakersfield country just like Buck and raw tear-in-your-beer stuff like old Hank. Sometimes it's great to hear the young'uns trying to revisit the old country sound, it reaffirms the fact that it was and still is some of the best music ever created and was a great time in the world of country music. But, on the other hand, it sucks to see authentic country legends like Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard get left behind when their new music is just as good today as it was back then. This conundrum comes up with Reynolds' new album. Sure, he played with Waylon when country music actually had some bite and the good stuff was making the radio and making people notice, even in the rock world. But, dammit, this album is filled with good stuff, heart-rending songs Reynolds wrote for Jennings and others and some he's written just for this new album. All carry his distinctive guitar stamp, his weary vocals, and his intense look at life. Should this album carry the same weight as the ones released by Wilco and Steve Earle this year? Hell, yeah! So don't let the fact that Reynolds is a virtual legend stop you from enjoying this album. Like my daddy said, if you want the real deal and the absolute truth, go to the man who has been there. Reynolds has been there, and he walks it like a man who knows it. A great album of stone country.
Compadre Records' siteBuy from amazon Released Oct. 2002.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood

JENNY REYNOLDS
Bet On The Wind... (self released)
If you've ever wished Sheryl Crow would turn country, Jenny Reynolds' new album may be just the thing you're looking for. Though a little more acoustic-based than Crow's records (and less gravelly on the vocals), Reynolds asserts the same kind of strong female personality as Crow, totally demolishing the long country legacy of the weak female. If you find Reynolds standing by her man, it's only because she's punching him out. A decent songwriter, Reynolds writes all the songs here save a cover of Peter Gabriel's Mercy Street. She does corral a guest star (Catie Curtis on vocals) but mostly, this is her CD. Utility player Kevin Barry does handle a ton of instruments, and the production chores were done by Richard Gates and Chris Rival, but the assistance doesn't subtract anything from Reynolds vision. A very good CD from an artist who deserves more attention.
Her website. Order from amazon Released Sept, '02. Reviewed by Scott Homewood

MARSHALL RHODES
Marshall Rhodes... (Big River)

The opening cut here, “la' Pontchartrain”, with its rollicking piano boogie gets one thinking, “Dixieland swing country from a Bay area band”? Sort of right, abetted by the ragtime clarinet, (?... yup, a clarinet), solo on “Kay Marie”, further down in the tracks. The truth of the matter is that this self-titled release by Marshall Rhodes is rather more eclectic than that. The second cut, “Brand New Coat of Paint”, is in the traditional country good-time vein, replete with brushes on the snare-only rhythm line. Conversely, fourth up is “In The Name Of God”, a searing and rocking indictment of organized religion that sprawls from Biblical times to the present, and features guitarist Michael Leaman soaring with the best of them. The band's writing is principally in the hands of Glen Burke, the Rhodes complement to Leaman's Marshall, and Michael Godwin and Adam Berkowitz on bass and percussion round out this quartet that has its antecedents in Frisco's Borderline. Difficult to categorize, easy to listen to, none too shabby for a debut release.

His site. Order from CD Baby. Released Aug. '06. Reviewed by Don Grant.

CHRIS RICHARDS
Jam the Breeze... (Ten High Ranch)
While Chris Richards has no relationship to the legendary Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards but a shared last name, I daresay this great album from the relative newcomer is more vital and entrancing than anything that bunch of dinosaurs has put out in many years. This CD is a very engaging mix of gently rocking country songs and fine ballads that will just about rip your heart out with their imagery and heartfelt beauty. Chris' voice is a very soothing and comforting one, almost lulling you to sleep during the slower ones and calmly guiding you through the quicker numbers. This is a very good CD from an assured singer and very talented songwriter. Standout tracks include "Why Arizona" and "Someone Else's Blues", but trust me, there ain't a bad one in the bunch! Fans of the V-Roy's slower numbers will love this!
Order the CD from Miles Of Music.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood

CHRIS RICHARDS
Tumblers and Grit... (Lake Effect)
Chris Richards has himself a fine collection of songs here. By far the most "radio friendly" of the current crop of indie CDs I've heard recently. His voice has a certain Tom Petty influence. On the other hand his sound and writing style scream classic Nashville. Speaking of which, he had the good sense and fortune to surround himself with a high cred producer like R.S. Field. Add to that some fine Nashville session talent like Kenny Vaughan and steel guitar legend Lloyd Green. Their contribution shows. This is a finely written, performed and recorded set. Well done.
Chris' website. Buy from amazon. Released July, '04, reviewed by Keith Robb.

KIM RICHEY
Bitter Sweet.....(Mercury)
At first listen, Kim's CD sounds a little "slick", as in big Nashville budget "slick". Indeed, Nashville may have thrown a wad at this CD, but Kim Richey has too much taste and interesting song arrangements for Nashville Radio to notice. She has a strong alto voice that I love, not unlike Shawn Colvin, in both voice and and songwriting style. Producer/co-songwriter deserves a hand for packaging the songs inventively. If you like say, Mary Chapin Carpenter or Rosanne Cash, try Kim Richey's new one, and I kinda hope Nashville doesn't discover her.
Best songs: Every River, I'm Alright, I Know, Why Can't I say Goodnight. Mercury Nashville's site with bio,etc.  Released March, '97. Reviewed by Bill Frater

KIM RICHEY
Rise... (Lost Highway)
Rarely has an artist come along the country scene with talent like Richey. And, sadly, rarely has anyone with so much talent been so abused by the corporate music industry machine. Sure, legions of talented artists have been ripped off by the majors. You could almost say if an artist hasn't been ripped off they didn't have any talent to rip off. With Richey, though, it's especially annoying. Blessed with a wonderful voice, she can out-sing most of the mindless thrushes sitting on the charts right now. An excellent songwriter, her songs have hit for other artists and show plenty of depth and style. Her looks and personality are also formidable and I'd much rather be stuck in an elevator with Richey than with a plastic princess like Shania Twain. Combine all of her pluses and it boggles why she doesn't hold a higher place in the pantheon of female country artists. Her newest makes this slight even more remarkable. Rise is a great album. From the first song (Girl In A Car) where she sounds a little like Sheryl Crow on through the shimmery pop of Me and You and throughout this CD, Richey shines like a diamond. Passionate vocals and rich, compelling songs make this the best of Richey's three CDs and a wake-up call to the cowards-that-be at country (and pop, even) radio to play this  great CD to death. Sure, it's a little more rocky than her other releases, almost as if Richey is starting to walk away from the country establishment that's ignored her, but it's still rootsy enough. And who could blame her if she were to walk away from country? She's not the first artist the establishment has shit all over. Check out this fine album, claim her as your own. The musical terrain is not as important as discovering how great this neglected artist is. Country fans as well as rockers will find a lot of stuff on this to like.
Lost Highway has done a site for Richey which includes a bio, mailing list, and more.  Buy from amazon. Released Oct, 2002.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood

RICHMOND FONTAINE
Post to Wire... (El Cortez)
This Portland, Oregon band has definitely made a splash in the Americana scene and is known for character driven songwriting set to rootsy rock backing, fleshed out by  pedal steel and vocals sometimes evoking Harvest era Neil Young. This song cycle plays out like an indie film, grainy black and white shots of losers, loners and other travelers, complete with verbal postcards from the main protagonist. Is all hope lost for these young n'eer do wells? According to the song Polaroid " not everyone gives up, or is beaten or robbed, or always stoned". Depending on your life situation, this may be small comfort and difficult listening, though the evocative tunes and lyrics suggest  this is a band to watch. The question is do the songs play out on their own, minus the thematic elements. Well, in the case of the rocking "Through" or the afore mentioned "Polaroid", the answer is yes. Not for everyone , this recording may be one you save for a rainy day or a melancholy drive.
Buy from amazon. Re-released early 2005.  Reviewed by Michael Meehan.

JAMES RIDER & 420 TURNAROUND
Dust and Doghair ... (self released)
If you, like I, mourned the passing of those great, guitar-fuelled bands like Marshall Tucker, and Lynrd Skynrd, weep no more; their torch has been caught by 420 Turnaround. These guys keep the throttle fire-walled until the last two cuts, and, even then, you can tell from the riffs in the background that they're still chompin' at the bit. Interestingly, what those other bands did with three guitars, they accomplish with two.. All of the tunes, except one, sprang from the pen of James Rider, lead vocalist and guitarist, and he's definitely got a knack for turning a phrase. The last, uncredited cut, "Fuckin' and Fightin'", is one that everyone who has ever been in a relationship can empathize with. Yes, days like those do have a habit of happening. Distressingly, there was a dearth of info, re: recording company, release date, etc., but their website has some background info. Nevertheless, this one gets a permanent spot in the CD changer.
The 420 Turnaround site is the only place to get the CD. Reviewed by Don Grant.

DON RIGSBY
Empty Old Mailbox... (Sugar Hill)
Don Rigsby is the real deal. He's one of the younger masters of bluegrass who is equally adept at hard-driving traditional bluegrass or the leading edge of a more progressive sound. Like all the best  country music innovators (Hank Williams and Bill Monroe come to mind) he incorporates elements of the past with a passionate engagement for the present. And in the process creates something new. His soulful mountain vocals recall the early Stanley Brothers and his stellar band (including Dobro ace Jerry Douglas) kicks it as tight as Monroe's Bluegrass Boys. And the material, though largely of recent vintage, sound both modern and classic. Hot picking, excellent material, and the best country tenor this side of Vince Gill elevate Don Rigsby to the top of the contemporary bluegrass heap. This is a must for bluegrass fans.
Sugar Hill Records  Released Sept. 2000, reviewed by Kevin Russell

Cover ImageJASON RINGENBERG
All Over Creation... (Yep Roc)
When Jason Ringenberg first got together with his Scorchers to barnstorm all of the country playing his rowdy mix of country, rock and blues there was no alt.country movement, no network of radio stations or people to help the cause. Ringenberg and his band were all alone, championing the kind of music that has grown into a movement today and gained a lot of attention. He was there plying his roots rock trade in the middle of new wave and when alternative was beginning, playing to crowds of skinny-tie wearing teenagers when the Eagles were a corporate rock joke (still are, actually) and Gram Parsons was a forgotten man. Now that other bands have come in and built on Jason and the Scorchers' trailblazing, sometimes we forget who brought the country-rock movement back to life. Thank god Ringenberg comes back to remind us every so often. He's put out this new CD, which is made up of a bunch of collaborations with musical friends recorded while touring his last solo record, A Pocketful Of Soul. Artists like Tommy Womack, BR549 and Steve Earle join Ringenberg to share in the recording of songs they have written, or inspired him to write. While most albums featuring a myriad of guest stars are hit-and-miss, Ringenberg has such a rock-solid vision for his music that everything still comes out vintage Ringenberg, twang and raunch intact. Even though the future of Jason and the Scorchers is up in the air right now, be thankful that Jason Ringenberg is in this music thing for life and keeps putting out albums full of rocking country soul to keep our own souls satisfied.
Yep Roc's Jason page. Buy from amazon   Released June, 2002.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood .

JASON RINGENBERG
A Pocketful of Soul... (Courageous Chicken)
Way back in the '90's Jason, with his band the Scorchers, carried the beer stained banner of punk-country music, and made the world safe for the edgier side what became alt.country music. We now find Ringenberg raising a family on an old chicken ranch outside of Nashville. Self-released, the label named reflects his wife's fondness for chickens. The bare-bones songs played with just 2 or 3 acoustic instruments reflect his happiness in his new-found domestic life. Not an electric guitar or drum kit to be found here and his off-beat vocal style make him sound like the Jonathan Richman of country music.
Try JasonRingenberg.com.  Release date: Aug. '00.    Reviewed by Bill Frater.

STEVE RIPLEY
Ripley... (Audium)
For those stumbling over the name, you might remember Ripley as the main cog behind the country group The Tractors, who had a few hits in the mid-'90's. Personally, I compare Ripley with Jeff Lynne from ELO in the pop world. Ripley, like Lynne, is a perfectionist in the studio, both production-wise and musically. More than one Tractors album has been delayed repeatedly simply because Ripley didn't feel it was ready. Ripley is a multi-instrumentalist as is Lynne and both are known to "take over" an instrument when someone else can't get the part quite right. Both are decent songwriters who contribute most (if not all) of the songwriting duties to their respective groups. Both treat their bandmates pretty much as functionaries. Also, their simplistic production styles are quite similar. Both use lots of extra gee-gaws in the mix while downplaying drums, often relying on the same simple beat for every song. Also, and most telling, both manage to squeeze every ounce of life and inspiration from their songs, leaving the songs sterile and limp more often than not. As good a songwriter as each of them is, their songs often are simply studio-ed to death. This album, sadly, follows suit. Like most of the well-produced, well-written, lifeless-sounding Tractors albums, Ripley's solo debut exhibits the same strengths and weaknesses of his past work: great potential and sad execution. There is no life to any of these songs and the last half of this CD is just about unbearable. This just proves that you can be as talented as anyone and still manage to create a bad CD. Diehard fans may like the cover of "No Depression (In Heaven)". Other bonuses include guitar legend and Elvis Presley bandmate Scotty Moore producing some of this as well as a crack studio band backing Ripley up. Aside from "No Depression" and a few spots here and there, this album doesn't cut it at all, though if you like the Tractors, you'll like this.
Audium's Ripley page has song samples.   Buy from amazon   Released Oct. 2002. Reviewed by Scott Homewood .  

THE RIPTONES
Extra Sauce....(Bloodshot)
I have this CD recorded on a "car tape" and I've played it so much drivin' around that I'm not sure what's on the other site of the cassette anymore, I just keep rewinding the Riptones side! This Chicago quintet, led by 2 brothers, has a rootsy-rockabilly sound that at first sounds like a hundred other blues bar bands. But it's that second listen that makes you realize that these guys have great harmonies and a bunch of good, fun tunes. The song subjects range from good food to County fairs to a song that pokes fun at all the motorcycle yuppies. They have the tattoos and torn-off sleeves of a bunch of bikers, but the upright bass and occasional washboard lets you know that these guys love to make music. This is just a fun-lovin' hit-the-highway kind CD. I hope they come out my way 'cause I know they'd be great live.
If you like...Spanic Boys, The Blasters, Wayne Hancock...then check these guys out.  Best songs: Out All Night, Good BBQ, County Fair, Crawfish Pie. Bloodshot Records site featuring tour info, etc. Released Jan. '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

PAUL RISHELL & ANNIE RAINES
Moving to the Country... (Rounder)
The basic format of this duo is acoustic pre-war rural blues, but wait, it's not that bad. They wisely mix things up, (some electric, some acoustic, and some fun instrumentals), to make things interesting.  Rishell is an excellent blues guitarist, fingerpicking, slide or electric, he can do it all.  His voice is rough, but he pulls it off because he's learned well from the blues masters.  Annie Raines, in addition to her killer harmonica playing, sings a few tunes with a voice reminiscent of Maria Muldaur.  Now she has taken up the mandolin and although it isn't heard often, there is something very special about a mandolin playing the blues that goes back through to Ry Cooder and Yank Rachell.  I'm not usually one to sit through a whole blues album, I tend to get bored, but in this case, the innovative mixture of styles makes for a very listenable album..
Best tracks: Kansas City Blues, Moving to the Country, I Get the Blues, Keep Your hands Off her, Sweet Tooth, Twist It Babe, Tears. Paul & Annie's websiteTone Cool's site. Released Aug. '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

RIVER BLUFF CLAN
2 Quarts Low...(Fat Chance)
Now here's a great  band out of Memphis who know how to put together an impressive album of real Americana music. It's all here, from the fine soulful voice of lead singer Jimmy Davis to the tight  musicianship to a great bunch of melodic songs. These guys  can rock, they have a sense of humor and they aren't afraid to pick some bluegrass either. Major record labels looking to jump on the "alt.country" band wagon would have a hard time finding a better band than River Bluff Clan. And I bet they blast through 3 sets worth of great tunes every Saturday night to a full house anywhere near Memphis. Search this band out and tell me if you don't hear something special here.

The band has their own web site, riverbluffclan.com, where you can order their CD. Released July, '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.


THE RIZDALES
Bar & Lounge... (Billyboy)

The Rizdales may be tough to pigeonhole, but they're easy to enjoy. Moving at times from Buck Owens-influenced 50's country to roots rock and back with ease, The Rizdales prove once again that Americana doesn't have to come from America. The husband and wife team of Tom and Tara Dunphy have written 13 songs are toe-tappingly catchy until you start listening to the lyrics. They're songs about trouble and heartache and the trials that people go through in life. The Dunphys do nice jobs of having them come off as yearning but not overly full of pathos. The instrumentalism is really great, especially Tara Dunphy's fiddle work. Tom Dunphy's Elvis Costello-ish vocal phrasing gets pretty lazy sometimes, especially on “The Worst Thing I Could Do,” but it doesn't detract from the overall quality of the CD. The production is particularly tasty, giving the listener the feeling of being right there with the band, without the CD feeling raw or underproduced.

The Rizdales' site has CD ordering. Released June '04, reviewed by Clint Weathers.


A. J. ROACH
Appalachia... (self-released)
This five-song EP gives a pretty good introduction into the songwriting skills of Roach. The songs are pretty much based around the acoustic guitar with a smidgen of instrumentation here and there. Overall, very minimalist stuff and very folky, like a young Johnny Cash without the basso baritone. Pretty decent.
A.J.'s website.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

RONNIE ROBERTSON
Billy Mae... (self released)
Canadian country artist Robertson decides to go straight for a traditional sound on this seven song EP. No drums are featured, just the bare bones sounds of some acoustic guitar, a little bass and a lot of traditional stringed instruments such as violin and mandolin. Very good stuff, although I have to say the song writing is just a bit amateurish in the rhyming and structure department. Robertson's voice, although not overly polished (a good thing), lends a sort of craggy authenticity to his world-weary songs and the only thing I am left really wanting is more. Definitely worth the money.
Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

BRUCE ROBISON
Wrapped...(Lucky Dog/Sony)
This guy's music reminds me of a time when major record labels supported lots of great singer-songwriters like Danny O'Keefe, B.W. Stevenson, Steve Goodman and Larry Hosford. These artists straddled the line between rock, folk, and country, and no one cared if it sounded like country or folk or whatever. It was the songs that mattered. If you miss some of the above people like I do, then I think you will love this CD. He's from Austin and his wife, Kelly Willis is all over the album adding her sweet harmonies. These songs are on my mind when I get up in the morning. What more can I say...this is good stuff!
If you like...Peter Case, Steve Earle, Bap Kennedy...then you should like this artist.  Best tracks-Wrapped, Angry All The Time, When I Loved You, 12 Bar Blues. Sony has a series of Bruce Robison pages inc. bio, audio, and pictures. Released May, '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

BRUCE ROBISON
Long Way Home From Anywhere... (Lucky Dog/Sony)
Where some songwriters have to be in pain to write great songs, perhaps being married to Kelly Willis has helped Robison write songs that acknowledge love while retaining a sense of humor.  Bruce has such a soft and resonant voice and he writes such beautiful ballads that he has to be careful not to fall into sounding like soft rock.  He wisely mixes in some country shuffles to keep things lively, perhaps taking a cue from his brother Charlie's Country Radio success. Then again, maybe I'm over-analyzing here, looking for his motivations. I do know that this is a great collection of songs, not a bad one in the bunch!  If you love singers like Guy Clark, Jim Lauderdale or Kevin Welch, add this CD to your shopping list.
  Best songs: Driving All Night Long, Just Married, Red Letter Day, The Good Life, Trouble, Anymore Good Lovin', What Do You Think.  Bruce has his own site, boarsnest.com with tour, mailing list and bio stuff, but not much else...  Released July, '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

BRUCE ROBISON
Eleven Stories… (Sustain)
What's not to love about Bruce Robison's new CD… I'm having a hard time answering that. From his warm, soothing voice to his poetic ballads to his impeccable arrangements to his intelligent choice of cover tunes. Robison, like Don Williams, has one of those voices that just sounds mellow, even when he's rockin' out. Having his songs covered by a few big-name Nashville artists has afforded him the luxury to build his own studio and to have control over what he does. So he sounds relaxed and confident, writing about dreams, missed opportunities and of course, love. “It's All Over But The Crying” cuts to the core of the resignation of a failed relationship, and sounds like it'll be the next hit by some other singer. He even channels Jerry Garcia's voice slightly on the glorious re-do of the Dead's “Tennessee Jed”. Bruce's wife Kelly Willis lends her harmony voice to Webb Pierce's “More And More” and all is right with the world. So the answer is, 5 stars, I love this guy's voice, songs and attitude.
Bruce's site. Sustain Records. Buy from Amazon. Released April, '06, reviewed by Bill Frater.

BRUCE ROBISON
The New World... (Premium)
There are times when an artist reaches a comfortable — not to be confused with complacent — stage in their career and the ease and confidence of their work is evident. Bruce Robison sounds like he is at that stage. His latest work, The New World, shows off his experience as a songwriter and stalwart of a crowded house of Texas singer/songwriters. He may not be at the top of a heap that includes Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark and Steve Earle, but his latest effort keeps him in the running. His vocal confidence is reminiscent of Nick Lowe and a few of the songs harken back to Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen. There’s even a little bit of the Bakersfield sound of Buck and Merle lurking in the background. Robison is a gifted songwriter who is in command of his talents.
Bruce's website, and MySpace page. Buy from Amazon. Released Sept. '08, reviewed by Barry Dugan

CHARLIE ROBISON
Step Right Up... (Sony/Lucky Dog)
Since the success of Charlie's last album, (the more country flavored Life Of The Party), this new one is being "handled" by Sony's Nashville division, [Charlie's being married to a Dixie Chick and all]... I was fearful of some "Hot Country" compromises, but to my surprise, the album is great and actually rocks pretty hard for a country release. You don't even hear any fiddle or steel guitar until the 5th track, which is a wonderful duet with Natalie Maines. He also covers two wonderful Al Anderson-era NRBQ songs. Turns out Charlie's a big fan of the band and there are  some intriguing "Q" influences in the arrangements. He also takes some excursions towards Irish and Tex-Mex music without seeming to take it all too seriously. It's refreshing to know that Charlie is still untamed by Nashville.
CharlieRobison.com or Sony Nashville.    Released April, '01, reviewed by Bill Frater.

CHARLIE ROBISON, JACK INGRAM, BRUCE ROBISON
Unleashed Live... (Sony/ Lucky Dog)
This is a live package featuring Lucky Dog's best 3 young Texas rockin' Country singer-songwriters. Each submit 4 songs originally recorded on their solo albums. The whole thing was recorded at Texas's oldest dance palace, Gruene Hall, in front of a fairly raucous crowd. Bruce Robison is up first with good but unspectacular versions of songs from his 2 earlier Lucky Dog CDs. Big brother Charlie follows, the Texas fan's favorite judging by the enthusiastic response. Jack Ingram, my favorite of the three, brings it all home with his smokin' roots-rock, and a sing along version of "Barbie Doll". One nice bonus is an offer inside the CD box for a free live video of the show, as long as you send it in by the end of the year.
  Web info: Sony Nashville. Released Sept. '00, reviewed by Bill Frater.

ROCKHOUSE RAMBLERS
Bar Time... (Hayden's Ferry)
This St. Louis outfit features a bunch of guys from other bands who started off doing old country cover tunes on their days off from their regular bands. They eventually started writing their own tunes in the same Retro-Country style. Like anybody or any band on "holiday" they sound relaxed and like they're having fun and it makes the music that much better. Not only that, the lineup is stacked with no less then three really good singers-songwriters. Kip Loui (Belle Star), Gary Hunt, and Dade Farrar (One Fell Swoop), and brother of Jay from Son Volt, all switch off vocals and writing songs. It's all quite fun and swinging and steeped in the tradition of real "old school" country music while not ignoring the present.
Check out Hayden's Ferry's site Released June, '00, reviewed by Bill Frater.

ROCKHOUSE RAMBLERS
Torch This Town… (Hayden’s Ferry) 
The Ramblers hail from St. Louis and honor the classic "Old School" country of Marty Robbins, Ray Price, Buck Owens and a dozen other great swingin’ honky-tonkers. Having 3 distinct lead vocalists, Gary Hunt, Dade Farrar and Kip Loui, makes it absorbing with their different takes on country while always keeping it authentic. They attack each tune with a sort of playful passion while not getting too hokey like bands like BR-549. They just jump right in, trusting their instincts enough to write their own tunes many featuring great twin lead guitar arrangements. I’m dying to see these guys live!

HaydensFerry.com Buy from amazon Released Nov, 2002. Reviewed by Bill Frater


CARRIE RODRIGUEZ
Love and Circumstance... (R.E.D./Ninth Street Opus)

If for no other reason than the song selection, this is a great recording — but there are plenty of other reasons. Carrie Rodriguez’s soulful voice and her consummate musicianship put a polish on the overall sound. It’s a provocative group of love songs and you can feel the ache when Rodriguez sings them. She adds a guest lineup that includes the ubiquitous Buddy Miller (when does he sleep?), Greg Liesz and Bill Frisell. Rodriguez, who has made three solo records following her collaboration with Chip Taylor, could have set herself up to fall short on this ambitious undertaking. Few singers have the ability to pour themselves as skillfully into such a collection of songs: the familiar covers include “Big Love” from the Little Village combo of Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe, John Hiatt and Jim Keltner, “Wide River to Cross” by Buddy and Julie Miller, “Steal Your Love” by Lucinda Williams, “Waltzing’s for Dreamers” by Richard Thompson, “I Made A Lover’s Prayer,” by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings “I Started Loving You Again” by Merle Haggard and Bonnie Owens, “Rex’s Blues” by Townes Van Zant, and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by Hank Williams. The latter may be the standout. With Rodriguez playing electric mandolin and singing and Frisell on guitar, it is a sparse and plaintiff interpretation of a classic.
Carrie's site. Order from Amazon. Released April, '10. Reviewed by Barry Dugan.

CARRIE RODRIGUEZ AND BEN KYLE
We Still Love Our Country... (Ninth Street Opus)
If I walked into a bar and saw these two charming performers playing this set, I’d sit right down and sing along with these great songs I’ve known for years - "If I Needed You", "You’re Still On My Mind", "Love Hurts" - all classics that many of us who read Freight Train Boogie cut our teeth on, with versions from the Byrds, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris and Townes VanZandt. Carrie Rodriguez and Ben Kyle are each accomplished writers and performers. Ms. Rodriguez is an exciting fiddler/chanteuse, and has done a fine series of albums with über-veteren songwriter Chip Taylor. Hailing from Minneapolis by way of Ireland, Ben Kyle brings a passionate folk sensibility to his Americana group, Romantica. And there's the problem with We Still Love Our Country. Of the 8 songs here only 3 stand out as album material, while the rest sound like basic readings of well-worn favorites. When you've got great original material it seems odd to fall back on covers, much less chestnuts such as these. Ben Kyle’s "Your Lonely Heart" starts the album sounding fresh and energized, and the duo-composed "Fire Alarm" is fetching and witty. The standout track by far is "Big Kiss", a smoldering and sensual ballad composed by Ms. Rodriguez' compatriot Chip Taylor. An album of that, please. 3 stars until then.
The album's site. Order from Amazon. Released Feb. '11, reviewed by Brad Price.

DANIEL ROMANO
Come Cry With Me... (Normaltown)

This CD has some of the most cliche country western themes in it. He has taken sad and depression to a new low.  The song “Middle Child”, sounds like a jilted lover at the beginning and about half way through, you realize he is talking about his mother and I got a real creepy feeling about the song from then on. He includes all the standard definition of a middle child according to therapist Sigmund Freud. The rest of the album goes on about lost love, and on and on and on. I don't know if I wanted to open a beer and join him in his sorrow or turn to CD player off. I got up twice to turn it off, but thought I would give him another chance.  The last song on the album ” A New Love ( Can Be Found)" reminds me of Willie Nelson’s “ Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”.  His voice is clear, concise and perfect for country music. He needs to find more upbeat material. The band was flawless. Production was clear.

Daniel's website. Order from Amazon. Released March, '13, reviewed by Joe Germam.

CAITLIN ROSE
Own Side Now... (Theory 8)

She writes and write songs like an old soul, yet, Nashville-based Caitlin Rose is just barely into her 20s. She tantalized folks with her lyricism and big voice on her debut EP (Dead Flowers, 2009) where she was equally at home be it singing tough or tender. Now along comes her full-length debut called Own Side Now on which she combines that fetching and versatile voice with lived-in songs running the emotional gamut to deliver a take-notice performance primed to perk ears. Highly recommended.
Visit www.thecaitlinrose.com. Order from Amazon. Released March, '11, reviewed by Dan Ferguson

STUART ROSH
Hummingbirds In Flight (Winged Flight)

Now here's a guy who can quit his day job with impunity. Stuart Rojstaczer, geologist and professor, has an alter ego named Stuart Rosh, and he's a pretty scratch musician and songwriter. His blend of bluegrass, jazz, and blues/rock would seem to belie any academe connection, except that his lyrics betray him. Articulate, concise, and not unnecessarily embellished, his words say what's on his mind with brevity that is refreshing. Put that kind of writing alongside Delbert McClinton's guitarist, Rick Gordon, Shad Cobb's mighty fine fiddlin', a backbone supplied by Kathy Burkly and John Vogt, and you've got the makings of a respectable recording. Add some keyboards by Ronnie Godfrey and Neil Janklow, some vocal support from Audrey Auld and Catherine Summer, and you've got a very good recording. It's an impressive follow-up to Accept No Imitations , his 2004 debut.

Stuart's website. Buy from amazon. Released April, 2005 Reviewed by Don Grant.

PETER ROWAN & TONY RICE
You Were There For Me... (Rounder)

 

The liner notes describe this CD as, “graceful, challenging, authentic and beautiful”. Liner notes can be misleading, but, in this case, I'm hard put to come up with a better description; I'd argue with its bluegrass classification, however. There are simply too many dimensions herein, Tex-Mex and folk, to name a few, that preclude a definitive and singular categorization. These guys go back a long ways in their individual careers, and they're proof positive that age is nothing but experience. Rowan writes some really great stuff, (do you perchance remember ‘Panama Red'?); ‘Miss Liberty', the title track, ‘Cowboys and Indians, oh, to hell with it, there's not a dud here folks, I can't pick out the best ones for you. Rice's guitar stylings are par excellence; it's the perfect embellishment for the framework provided by Billy Bright on mandolin, Larry Atamaniuk, percussion, and Tony Garnier and Bryn Bright share the bass duties. This one is a work of auditory art, and a real pleasure to listen to.

Rounder's page. Buy from amazon. Released Sept. 2004.  Reviewed by Don Grant.

PETER ROWAN & TONY RICE
Quartet ... (Rounder)
Peter Rowan has worn a lot of sombreros in his musical career, from staight (with Bill Monroe) to not so straight (Old and in the Way) bluegrass to newgrass, tex mex and even reggae. But never has his great voice and songwriting been as well served as it is teaming up with master flatpicker Tony Rice. While their first release highlighted brand new Rowan compositions, this disc features a set not unlike their live shows, relying strongly on classic Rowan songs such as “Walls of Time” and “Midnight Moonlight” mingled with tasteful covers like Patti Smith's “Trespasses” and an absolutely pristine version of Towne Van Zandt's “To Live is to Fly”. This is a band effort, and the Quartet is nicely rounded out by the contributions of bassist/vocalist Bryn Davies and mandolinist/vocalist Sharon Gilchrist. Rowan's voice has never sounded better, Rice's picking is world class and the overall sound is as pretty and accomplished as your likely to hear on any acoustic/bluegrass release this year or any.
Rounder's page. Buy from amazon. Released Jan. '07.  Reviewed by Michael Meehan.

THE RUBY RAKES
The Ruby Rakes... (Ethic)
Ever since Porter sang with Dolly and Gram harmonized with Emmylou, the concept of a male and female country duo has been prevalent. Strangely, for years this only manifested itself in background vocal work as there were no real male/female teams to speak of in country music for quite a while. The Kennedys and, more influentially, Buddy and Julie Miller have recently paved the way for acts to have lead singers of both sexes. The Ruby Rakes are one of the more recent acts to take advantage of this new development. Switching leads and harmonizing effortlessly and beautifully, both singers (Barb Plank and Kurt Stevenson) add wonderful contrasting textures to their songs while carefully keeping it from becoming merely a gimmick. The increased sonic palette and freedom that is allowed from this arrangement lifts this album much higher than if the songs would have been sung by one or the other of them totally alone. Great stuff that fans of the Millers and Gram and Emmylou will love.
Ethic Recording's Ruby Rakes page.  Miles of Music has the CD.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood

LEE RUDE
Here It Comes... (Prudent)
"Song Of Nothing New" kicks it off this Twin Cities singer's CD with a commentary on the fact that there's nothing original these days. Then he goes on to show just how original and clever he is. His song subjects feature everyday items like cell phones, driving and love, but always with a witty twist. This is a CD of pop music with well-arranged acoustic and roots arrangements. He really has a way with words, I wouldn't be surprised if he wasn't an Elvis Costello fan. What I really love is the guy's real name is Lee Zukor but a friend gave him the name Lee Rude as a funny takeoff on Lou Reed.
Release date: Oct. '00. Order from amazon, or from the artist's website, LeeRude.com  Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Cover ImageCALVIN RUSSELL
Rebel Radio... (Pedernales/ FreeFalls)
Russell's got the title right. Listening to this album is a lot like listening to a radio station. But not the talentless crap that stands for corporate radio today. This sounds more like a dream alt.country station where only the best stuff gets played. I mean, you start with Russell's righteous Sleepy Labeef-like deep baritone vocals on top of music that could be either hardcore country from the ‘50's or some blistering blues rock that sounds like the Black Crowes backing him up. Either way, this is one of the most eclectic albums I've heard recently with every roots rock style save rockabilly represented. The diversity of musical styles on this CD is exemplified by Russell's choice of covers including songs by Townes Van Zandt, Gillian Welch, Stephen Bruton and Jagger and Richards among others. There is something here for fans of every style of country all ably fleshed out by Russell's outstanding vocals. A killer CD.
Calvin Russell website.  Buy from amazon. Released March, 2002.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood .

KEVIN RUSSELL
You Don't Know Me... (Jackalope)
Unfortunately, there is no school to help erstwhile music journalists polish their craft. Most of us are frustrated musicians or just writers who have found themselves writing music reviews to help pay the rent or to satisfy some unfathomable music jones unquenchable in any other way. I fall somewhere in between, I am indeed a frustrated musician and I do write about other topics as well. But, in my case, you have to factor in an overwhelming love of music and a feeling that analyzing music in this way is worthy in and of itself. Usually, before writing a review, I listen to an album three or four times to get a full appreciation of it. Often, while listening, I will peruse the liner notes or check out a bio of the artist. In this case, I lost the info pertaining to this disc and just had to go off the music itself. How surprised I was, after searching the web to find info on Russell, to find out he is also a writer - a writer for this very same website. Now, after listening, I have realised his take on being a writer may be vastly different from mine. Far from being a frustrated musician, Russell is a very accomplished one, playing with several bands and finding additional time to create this fine CD. A mixture of country and jazz with a few bluegrass touches, I can truthfully say this CD is wonderful and not feel like I am doing him any favor at all. Russell mixes in a bunch of classics (Chuck Berry's "Nadine", Gram Parson's "Hot Burrito #1", and Eddy Arnold's classic "You Don't Know Me" to name three) with his more country-flavored originals and all are great. Russell's guitar work is tasteful and memorable while his vocals are plaintive enough to bring out the deep emotion in his songs and serves even better when he interprets others'. Great music from a fellow writer! Makes me so jealous I may have to do one........nah, I wouldn't want to inflict that on anybody. Buy Russell's instead and maybe I'll keep my tortured songs to myself!
Order from CD Baby. Check ModernHicks.com for more info on Kevin. Reviewed by Bill Frater

LEON RUSSELL
Hank Wilson Vol. III...(Ark 21)
Way back in 1973, Leon Russell put out his first volume of country cover tunes, the same year that John Fogerty did a similar country-alter-ego thing with The Blue Ridge Rangers. Both of these albums exposed rock fans to a great bunch of classic country songs, myself among them. Well, "Hank" is back, but this time the songs he chose aren't as classic or as good. Either he chose some real smaltz hits like "Daddy Sang Bass", or songs that didn't need re-doing in the first place like "Crazy". No one should attempt to cover George Jones' signature song "He Stopped Loving Her Today", especially with Leon's Okie warble of a voice that has only grown more hoarse through the years. He also chose to help out ol' buddy Willie by covering a total of 4 of Nelson's compositions. Leon doesn't have the fan base or popularity that he had back in the 70's, so this effort comes off as a little desperate. Given the song selection, I don't think we needed Hank Wilson to come back yet. Sorry, Leon.
Released April, '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

ROB RUSSELL & THE SORE LOSERS
I Think We're Gonna Be Alright... (self released)
After watching all of the great alt.country bands of the past ten years either break up or defect to a more poppier side of the musical spectrum, it is exciting and energizing to see a band come along that seems to honor their country roots so fully with none of the artifice and Brian Wilson-isms that have crept into a lot of bands' repertoires so much lately. Not to say there isn't some blending of genres in Russell's sound - there is a healthy dose of Southern rock and even a huge dollop of punk-ish tone (yep, believe it) in a lot of the songs. But, unlike most of the popisms some bands have adopted, the rockier influences do not detract from the songs, but oftentimes enhance them. A fitting example would be Springsteen - he's still roots-based rock no matter how high he cranks up the guitar. It's too deeply imbedded in his sound to totally disappear. Same with Russell and his band on this CD - even the rockier songs scream of bedrock country. There's no escaping it. No matter how high the guitar gets cranked, the Hank Williams quotient is there and the quotient is high. This is a perfect band for country boys to get rowdy to and still be steeped in pure country music. Russell, to my ears, has reached what could be a perfect blend of roots and rock. Check it out for yourself.
Order from CD Baby. Reviewed by Scott Homewood

TOM RUSSELL
Borderland... (HighTone)
Fans of the story-songs of Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt are gonna love this new album by Tom Russell. Produced, aided and abetted by almost-legend-himself Gurf Morlix, this album also contains such quality players as Jimmy LaFave (background vox) and Ian McLagan (keys) among others. The best thing, though, is that neither the stellar production or great playing detract from Russell's great songs about life and love. For all the good work he has already done, this could be Russell's career album, the one that puts him up in Clark's and Zandt's league. His best ever, and just a great album, besides. Pick it up.
HighTone Records. Released April, '01.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood .  

TOM RUSSELL
The Man From God Knows Where...(HighTone)
Well, as most of you know if you read my reviews, I tend toward the visceral in my response to music...chills, hair raised, spine tingled etc. The Man From God Knows Where, a collection of songs tracing the history of Russell's relatives immigrating  from Norway and Ireland to America is no different  and in fact has me virtually a-twitter with physiological response. While it is the nature of poetry to convey much with little, it is the mastery of Tom Russell's songwriting that he can weave the poetry of his stories with music as integrally as strands of DNA.  The same DNA that configured his very essence is the blending  of these people whose story he tells.  The music, while haunted by the traditional sound of Ireland and Norway, is like America itself, a blend of history and innovation.  This I find so appealing in good contemporary folk music...it honors its roots but branches out so the sound is reflective of its life and times.  The Man From God Knows Where reminds us of the power of dreams to move people across oceans and continents to "a  land where love abides".  Tom Russell has said he'd prefer this record be played in its entirety and I agree.  It deserves the time you take to sit back, listen and enjoy.  Sharing vocals with Tom Russell are:  Iris Dement, Dave Van Ronk, Kari Bremnes, Sondre Bratland and the wonderful Dolores Keane plus top musicians.
There is a TomRussell.com and, of course, HighTone has a site.  Released March, '99 and reviewed by Kay Clements.

TOM RUSSELL
Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs ... (HighTone)
As you might have guessed from the title, Tom Russell is back doing what he does best, singing songs about the characters that populated the Old West. He chases Pancho Villa around Chihuahua and Coahuila in the opening cut, and then proceeds to lead the listener all around the Southwestern landscape, from Marty Robbin's "El Paso" to an intriguing version of Dylan's "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts", featuring some nice vocal work by Eliza Gilkyson and Joe Ely. One thing you have to say about Tom, is that when he chooses his help, he chooses some of the best. Just listening to the counter-play of his and Andrew Hardin's guitars is a treat, and then there's the songs themselves. What he didn't write himself, he exercised great good taste in including here. No one ever said that Woody Guthrie was a slouch at songwriting, and the same is true of Peter LaFarge and Linda Thompson, too. My favorite is "The Ballad of Edward Abbey", a lament for the West that was, versus the West that is. The old values are gone, replaced by their age-old nemesis, money. 'Tis a sad comment, and, sadder yet, 'tis the truth.
TomRussell' site, HighTone's site. Buy from amazon. Released Feb. 2004.  Reviewed by Don Grant.

TOM RUSSELL
Hotwalker... (HighTone)

I don't believe that I have ever encountered anything quite like this CD before. It's not so much a CD as it is an hour plus long audio documentary. Listen to this one alone in the dark, and just see if there isn't an old grainy black and white Movietone newsreel playing in your head after the first five minutes; “Ladies and gentlemen, it's matinee time”. It is downright eerie. Eerie because, while Russell is still recording the history of Americana, this time it's not about people, places, and events from a hundred years ago, this one hits almost too close to home for comfort. Hotwalker is a journey through an age within living memory, the fifties and early sixties, the Beat Generation, and it's a bit disconcerting to realize that the characters from an era that one was peripherally a part of have now become historical figures. Dialogue from luminaries such as Edward Abbey, Lenny Bruce, and Charles Bukowski are woven amongst Russell's period tunes, and inserts like “Sportin' Life Blues” by Dave Van Ronk and “Cocaine Blues” by Gary Davis. Russell's eye and ear for detail, his ability to pick up on the minutiae that are the essence of a culture is unerring here. Hotwalker will leave you reeling with a plethora of mixed emotions; after listening to it a few times, personally, I can't shake the sensation that someone has just walked over my grave.

TomRussell' site, HighTone's site. Buy from amazon. Released March, '05.  Reviewed by Don Grant.

TOM RUSSELL
Love And Fear... (HighTone)
On his first album of all new songs in over 10 years, Tom takes on such big subjects as life, love, lust, growing old and, as the title mentions, the fear underlying it all. This CD is not for the weak-hearted. This is the kind of songwriting that would make Springsteen jealous or make your ex-girlfriend cry. He lashes out with brutal honesty and jagged guitars on “Four Chambered Heart”. “Beautiful Trouble” cuts to the heart of forbidden fruit. Gurf Morlix, Mark Hallman, Fats Kaplan, Gretchen Peters and his steady lead guitarist Andrew Hardin are all there to lift this masterpiece. This is one of the few times when I actually was disappointed not to find a lyric sheet with the CD. I have to be honest, I never completely “got” Russell until this CD. The lead-off track is “The Pugilist at 59” and I had to look up what the word pugilist means. It means “someone who fights with his fists for sport”. Well, this one knock me out cold.
HighTone's site. Buy from amazon. Released March, '06.  Reviewed by Bill Frater.

RUST FARM
Rust Farm...(Daring)
This CD features a pair of young Boston-area bluegrass veterans. John McGann, who produced and co-wrote the challenging melodies, as well as ably covering all the acoustic and electric guitar chores. Then there's Chris Moore on mandolin and lead vocals, who also wrote all the intelligent lyrics. Oh, there are a few barroom songs here and an instrumental, but mostly this is well-thought-out acoustic music. Most of the tunes are upbeat and fresh-sounding. Moore's voice is expressive but sometimes a little on the thin side. Still, these guys are good players and harmonizers, and I hope the college-bred roots crowd discovers this CD.
Rounder's short bio, and McGann'sTour info page.  Released March, '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

GEOFFREY RUTLEDGE 
The Big Top... (self-released)
Geoffrey Rutledge comes from the California coastal town of Santa Cruz, an area full of talented artists and singers. He reminds me of the great singer-songwriters prevalent in the late 70's such as James Taylor, B.W. Stevenson and Jesse Winchester. In this day and age, you have to not only be a good songwriter, you have to have a great voice as well. Rutledge qualifies in both departments.. His voice is smooth and expressive and his arrangements are varied and always interesting. His songs have been steadily growing on me. Give this newcomer a listen and allow his warm tender songs to grow on you too.
Order from Miles Of Music.  Reviewed by Bill Frater.

JIMMY RYAN
Blue Diamond Shine… (Ambitious)
Jimmy Ryan was a member of the Blood Oranges, an under-appreciated roots band that also featured Cheri Knight and Mark Spencer. Ryan plays the mandolin and mandocello (left-handed no less), on every track, frequently replacing the guitar as the principle melodic instrument. It tends to give the CD a certain "chiming" flavor throughout, although save for a few choice tunes, it ain’t bluegrass. Interestingly, it’s produced by Morphine drummer Billy Conway and sax player Dana Colley, also from the same minimalist rock band, (led by the late Mark Sandman) that frequently sounded like they were from another planet. Ryan’s voice and songs get a little tiring towards the end of the album, I’m sorry to say, but I greatly appreciate his musical courage and creativity.
Jimmy's web site. Buy from amazon Released July, 2002.  Reviewed by Bill Frater

Cover ImageMATTHEW RYAN
Concussion.... (Waxysilver)
Many music fans may remember Ryan from his two excellent albums on A&M Records before the label lost its' mind and sent him packing. It's their loss as Ryan is one of the better songwriters to emerge in the past decade and this, his third album, is a testament to it. Able to convey deep sadness and heartbreak as well or better than his more well-known contemporaries (Hello, Mr.Adams and Ms. Williams) Ryan has not received the public acknowledgement he deserves but seems on the verge of changing that, even while now a part of an small indie label roster. This is a moody album to listen to when you're alone, frightened and in deep emotional pain. Most songs are slow and brooding but all venture far from the generic country pap played on country radio today to  embrace pop elements and instrumentation. A standout song, and possibly the centerpiece for the album, is a duet with Lucinda Williams fittingly called 'Devastation' . If Roy Orbison were starting his career today, this is probably what he would sound like. Only probably without Ryan's Tom Waits-like croak. Not putting out this record only proves what I've thought for a while: the letters A&M stand for Assholes and Morons.
WaxySilver.com has some bio and tour info. Released Sept. 2001.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

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