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77 EL DEORA
Sirens… (Western Independent Recording)

A honky tonk band gigging in the SF Bay Area can be tough work, very few good twang-friendly clubs, indifferent crowds or ignorant people who shout “yee-haw” whenever they hear a fiddle. A band needs to be hip, have some attitude and a good sense of humor helps too. Despite their curious name, 77 El Deora has all three covered in spades. Out front is the double-barreled weaponry of Maurice Tani's witty songwriting and the strong lead vocals of Jenn Courtney. Tani is a master at the play on word and like early Robbie Fulks, respects the tradition of classic country themes, but with a contemporary twist. On “The Devil In My Ear” he takes the call from the girl even though he's gonna do things he'll regret and give more than he gets. He also deftly writes from the female perspective whether it's “Bad Boy” or “Orange Jumpsuit”, a song about dating a convict where “he was armed but I was charmed” Jenn sings ‘em all with with true “conviction”. A great little disc that I hope gets heard outside of their usual haunts.

Their web site. Order from CD Baby. Released late 2005, reviewed by Bill Frater

77 EL DEORA (Maurice Tani/Jenn Courtney)
The Crown & The Crow’s Confession... (Western Independent Recording)
Classic film fans might recall the Butch & Sundance line, “Who are those guys?” This CD is something different, and different good is meant. Set in an emotionally bleak California dystopia, where the just-foreclosed suburbs infest the ranch and farm land, this uncanny concept CD is a blast of Bakersfield with a ground-cover of Weeds. The music is The Buckaroos with bravura and pop touches--traces of Roy Orbison, The Mavericks, even Burt Bacharach. (Interesting use of III chords, for you music nerds.) Maurice Tani is the writer, the arranger, the baritone who may have listened to Texas Playboys’ singer Leon Rausch once or twice. His partner Jenn Courtney is an intelligent, sexy singer…a woman in full. The songs are truly for grownups. This is thoughtful, heart-wrenching stuff about human asteroids that wonder where and how they lost their way and if there is a GPS that works. The songs are also darkly funny comments on such faves as power, desire, adrenalin, ambivalence, and narco squad surveillance. Highlights include torch song “Rain,” George Jonesian “Shattered,” not-ready-for-Oprah “I Just Dodged a Bullet,” etched-in-angst “Radio City” and, as they say, many more, including a charming and spot-on version of Springsteen’s “County Fair,” the sole cover. Who are those guys? Well, I hope they catch you…you won’t be sorry.
The band's site. Order from CD Baby. Released Jan. '11, reviewed by Jeep Rosenberg.

THE SADDLETONES
Hitch Yer Wagon... (self released)
Though the name of the band is The Saddletones, the core of this debut CD is the lead singer – Miss Laurie Ann Hullinger – who composed nine if the 11 songs on this 38-minute CD (her husband, Mark, wrote the other two). She’s back by the other three members (electric guitar, bass and drums) with some guest musicians on fiddle, accordion, piano or steel guitar when the mood calls for it. Hullinger pays tribute – in her own way – to the great female “country” singers of the past. “Last Ounce of Pride” could have been sung by Patsy Cline, “Detour to Nowhere” is something Wanda Jackson might have done and “Long and Lonely Night” has the Kitty Wells feel to it. Though the band is from New Jersey they often have that Bakersfiekd, CA sound from the 1950s. “What Happened in Vegas” is Tex-Mex and the CD closes out with, what I think is the best track: “Dangerous Love”, with a chorus that will stay in your head after it ends. It’s a nice debut album. It would be interesting to see how Hullinger and the band handle some “cover” songs in their next album.
Artist's site, Order from CD Baby. Released Sept. '12, reviewed by Steve Ramm.

THE SADIES
New Seasons... (Yep Roc)
While it begins on an all-of-a-minute bluegrass note, it's a haze of psychedelia that hangs heavy over New Seasons from Canadian foursome The Sadies. Known more for their spaghetti western approach to rock instrumentals, not to mention backing Neko Case, New Seasons sees The Sadies expose another side of the personality. Taking a page from their bluegrass family band beginnings, they mix their own brand of close harmony with a translucent barrage of guitar shimmer to create an album nothing short of striking.

Visit www.thesadies.net Buy from amazon. Released Oct. '07. Reviewed by Dan Ferguson.


MANDO SAENZ
Watertown... (Emergent)

It's really a pleasure when a new artist comes out of the gate at a full gallop, as Mando Saenz does with this debut. Born in Mexico, San Luis Potosi to be exact, and raised in Texas, an admitted latecomer to this career, his music is a harmonious blend of dolorous Mexicano influences and the lonesome vistas evoked by Buddy Miller and Townes Van Zandt. There is a professionalism inherent in this recording that belies its premiere status. Saenz' approach to his craft is uncompromising, both in production and performance; he knows what he wants, and how it should sound, settling for nothing less. Takes some guys two or three kicks before they get that polished. The backing musicians set a flawless stage for Saenz' delivery, the work of Tommy Detamore on assorted guitars, and Bobby Flores' fiddle and mandolin being particularly delightful, and, of course, there has to be some accordion, that's de rigueur down that-away. It's a pretty nice first package; check out clips of “Julia” and “When I Come Around” at his web site to hear what I'm talking about.

Mando' web site. Buy from amazon. Released Jan. '05. Reviewed by Don Grant.

DOUG SAHM
S.D.Q. '98....(Watermelon)
I can't think of any other artist who has put out more different albums with more different musicians playing more different styles of music, than "Sir" Doug Sahm. I mean this guy has done it all, and played it all, for over 30 years. Among his countless records on countless record labels,  there have been a few "dog" releases. Fortunately, this is not one of 'em. In fact, it's a very fun and enjoyable CD. Doug still has a great voice, and a good ear for good music. He tries on all his various "hats"- rock, blues, Tex-Mex, country, and that distinctive SDQ sound featuring his long-time compadre Augie Meyers. Austin's The Gourds also join Sahm for a couple of songs, including the the silly-but-catchy opening song, "Get a Life". In the liner notes, Doug says that this is the craziest album he ever cut. I like it's a solid collection of tunes that hold together very well after repeated listenings. Doug Sahm is a living legend, a true character, and a Texas treasure.

Best songs: Get a Life, St. Olav's gate, Malmo Mama, On Bended Knee, Louis Riel, Invitation to the Blues. There is an "unofficial" Doug Sahm site, that's OK, and has some links.  Released Oct. '98, reviewed by Bill Frater.


SALAMANDER CROSSING
Bottleneck Dreams...(Signature Sounds)
This is the 3rd CD from this talented quartet, and although on paper they may look like a bluegrass band, they really play kind of a folk/pop hybrid. Fiddle player Rani Arbo sings about half the lead vocals and she has a great voice that actually reminds me of Sandy Denny. Her songs are the standouts, mostly because of her voice, but the others contribute nice vocals too and their harmonies are excellent. The band wrote a few of the tunes and the others are well chosen intelligent love songs that are not well known. All in all, I find this to be a warm and enjoyable album of acoustic-pop music. Well paced, non-offensive and worthy of your consideration.
If you like Alison Krauss, The Cox Family, Iris DeMent...then you might enjoy Salamander Crossing. Best Songs: What Kind Of Person, Put The Weight On Me, Paul & Peter Walked, Five Days In May. Their label's site, Signature Sounds has bios, samples, and ordering information on all their CDs, as well as tour info. Released April, '98. reviewed by Bill Frater.

ROBIN DEAN SALMON
Gasoline... (Paul Street)

This is Salmon's eighth release, but it's a first listen for this writer, and a pretty damn good starting point for a musical introduction. Imagine Buddy Holly doing “The Houston Kid” and you'll be as close as damn is to swearing in getting a grip on Gasoline. Aided and abetted by a plethora of Nashville's finest sidemen, and a duet with Rodney Crowell on “Maybe I Do”, Gasoline is a showcase for lyrics that not only rhyme, they say something intelligent to boot, which, unfortunately, isn't all that common in much music these days. If you're looking for a list of standout tracks, forget it; there's nary a dud to be found on this baby. Well, OK, the afore-mentioned “Maybe I Do” has the makings of a classic, but then so does “Baby Please Try”, “Echo Of You”…, oh, to hell with it, just pick this one up and see if you don't agree as I do, when Rodney says: “Robin Salmon is smart, funny, poetic and in possession of a melodic wit. Anyone got a problem with that?” Look for this one in a Best of 2006 list.

Salmon's web site and MySpace page. Order from CD Baby. Released Oct. '05, reviewed by Don Grant.

ROBIN DEAN SALMON
Come On Home... (self released)
As soon as the needle hits the first groove, or whatever the equivalent would be in today’s CD age, it’s obvious that Robin Dean Salmon has neither lost his touch nor come anywhere near hitting the bottom of his creativity barrel. His latest offering consists of fifteen originals, and once again he’s got too many noteworthy sidemen to list here providing backup. His feet are firmly planted in the alternative country vein, with an occasional foray into traditional terrain with a song such as the title track, or rockabilly, with “Last Train” and the closing cut “Daddy Is A Short Man”. Salmon’s songs run the emotional gamut from pensive reflection, patriotism, (with some provisos), to the sheer joy of just for the hell of it rock n’ roll of “Arizona Rain”. You might hear some echoes of other artists herein but the finished product is ultimately pure RDS.
Order from CD Baby. Released Feb. '08, reviewed by Don Grant.

THE SALTY DOGS
The Salty Dogs And Friends... (self-released)
What a cool surprize this CD is! Reminicent of Buddy Miller or Dwight Yoakum, this is some of the best country music happening. Well written songs, emotion-drenched vocals, stellar musicianship -these guys have it all! Though all the songs are new, written by band leader Brad Williams, they have the sound of classic country, honky tonk and western swing. How they manage to sound vintage  and fresh at the same time is a real trick. This Little Rock band are true keepers of the country flame and just a whole lot of fun.
The "Dog's" site. Released '05. Order from Miles Of Music. Reviewed by Kevin Russell.

EVIE SANDS
Women in Prison... (Train Wreck)
Don't let the seeming simplicity of this record fool you.  It's a solid collection of true songs.  The instrumentation is for the most part electric and spare but there is nothing spare about the intensity of Sand's focus or the relevance of her songwriting.  Her promo material calls it a "heartfelt mix of blues, swampy rock and country soul" ...pretty accurate.   Her voice and the guitar work as partners allowing the lyrics to resonate at just the right frequency, taking some surprising turns along the way.  She's teamed up with former collaborators, Chip Taylor and Al Gorgoni both in the production and songwriting and I think it's remarkable.
Fav picks..I Ain't Done Yet, Women in Prison, Fingerprint Me Baby, I Hate You Today, Gasoline and Coffee. Train Wreck Record's Evie Sands page has bio and tour info.  Released April '99, reviewed by Kay Clements (from KWMR).

CHARLES SAWTELLE
Music from Rancho deVille... (Acoustic Disc)
This posthumously released CD was partially completed when Charles died of leukemia in 1999. His best friend, Laurie Lewis, finished up the project and brought along many of the top names in bluegrass and old-time music, including David Grisman, Jerry Douglas, Norman Blake, Michael Doucet and Flaco Jimenez. And they honor their fallen comrade with inspired performances on, not just bluegrass but old-time, Cajun, even Tex-Mex music. More than an artifact of his interests, this CD shows Sawtelle to be a true and vital contemporary acoustic music artist who, with great respect for tradition, created adventurous, thoroughly enjoyable music. I was touched by the affectionate comments in the liner notes by his peers about Charles as a person and about his dedication and integrity as a musician. And it shows. This is  just a damn fine CD.
Released Feb. '01.  Reviewed by Kevin Russell

SCARECROWS
Rattlesnake Law... (Heartbreak/Hayden's Ferry)
I can't say that this is a bad offering, but then neither is it great. Giving credit where it is due, these five musicians from Norway do have a handle on their instruments, and they've got the cojones to tackle a genre that's rather far from Scandinavia. They remind one of the Outlaws, with their three-pronged axe-attack, but, lyrically, they just don't cut it. Good tunes need good, original, words to complement the package, and these songs leave the impression that they were written to fit a formula. While it is pleasant enough to listen to, there's nothing to arrest one's attention; sort of a "been there; heard that" kind of CD.

Their site is in english. Buy from amazon. Released May '03. Reviewed by Don Grant.


ANDY SCHEINMAN
Make Amends... (Tangible)
Scheinman is a native New Yorker who has been kicking around Nashville for the last 5 years playing the singer-songwriter circuit.  He calls his music folk-western and for a debut album, it's a strong start.  Producer Tommy Spurlock is responsible for the fine roots- country arrangements while handling all guitars including pedal, lap steel and bass.  Andy's voice is not terribly distinctive but it's expressive and his songs are, for the most part, real life narratives.  For some reason Robert Earl Keen comes to mind as someone who he sounds like, and I didn't get into Keen until his later releases.  Andy Scheinman has the basic tools to be an artist of that caliber,. he just needs a few more miles under his belt.   
Tangible Music. Released Sept. '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

BOB SCHNEIDER
I'm Good Now... (Vanguard)
The second set from this idiosyncratic singer/songwriter feels a little more substantial than his previous CD, Lonelyland, but still feels in some way incomplete. It's almost as if Schneider is leaving a little bit of the story out. Either that, or the sequencing of the songs leaves something to be desired. I would think it the latter but I felt the same way after his previous album as I do now, having listened to this. Regardless of that, Schneider is an excellent songwriter, really getting to the point of a song and able to convey its' every nuance. Instrumentally, the album is strong as well, with a lot of good production touches as well as some hot guitar to keep things lively. Wgile on the singer/songwriter side, I wouldn't call this country. I wouldn't call it pop either. It rests somewhere in between like a Dylan record or a Springsteen record. It's more of a heart type of thing, no genre-naming allowed. A solid album and one that might make Schneider's career.
Buy from amazon. Released April '04. Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

RALDO SCHNEIDER
Burnin' Daylight... (self released)
There's a very interesting story about how this CD's title, Burnin' Daylight, came to not only affect the making of this CD but also make a somber statement about youth. Musician and songwriter Schneider dabbles in the construction trade as his day job and when the opportunity came for him to be in charge of helping to build a recording studio, Schneider quickly decided to start "burnin' daylight" and get the studio done as quick as possible in return for assistance in getting this album done. Filled with the kind of traditional-sounding country popular in the 60's and 70's, Schneider has crafted an album for those fans and for fans of the singer/songwriter genre, which was biggest at that time. These songs have a scope and a vision that any country Outlaw would love. The title phrase comes up again in the liner notes when Schneider acknowledges he isn't a kid anymore but feels he has lived enough life (or "burned enough daylight") to give his songs an added dimension lacking in most of today's music. To that, I agree. His songs have a maturity and a texture not found in a lot of the disposable music on the radio today, country or otherwise. If you're yearning for the kind of classic country music of twenty or thirty years ago, you might want to check this CD out.
Order from CD Baby. Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

DARRELL SCOTT
Modern Hymns... (Appleseed)
Darrell is one of the triple threats of Americana music. He has an amazing voice, plays anything with strings and writes with honesty and passion. After releasing six solo albums he's now recorded a collection of cover tunes, and no it's not writer's block or laziness that brought this on. Rather, in his words, his mission is to showcase “songs and songwriters whose music shook me as a kid. They guided the way to my own path as a singer-songwriter . . . These songs speak to the human condition . . . These songs are the truth ”. We all have those songs that had an effect on us while growing up, their lyrics ingrained in our consciousness. Mr. Scott chose lesser-known tracks by some of the masters: Dylan, Kristofferson, Cohen, and Axton. The standout tunes are John Hartford's excellent homage to the old days in Nashville, ("Nobody Eats at Linebaugh's Anymore"), Paul Simon's "American Tune" and Joni Mitchell's "Urge For Going". The imaginative acoustic arrangements bring out the essense of these songs. A highlight to this release is Darrell's detailed liner notes about how he discovered each song. Modern Hymns indeed.
Darrell's site. Buy from amazon. Released August '08. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

DARRELL SCOTT
A Crooked Road... (Full Light)
This is Scott's 8th solo album, and as always, he knows how to string together words and instruments both gracefully and tastefully.  His full expressive voice is a highlight, naturally, but you can't help notice that this is a mostly somber collection of songs. We can all relate to the pain of a break-up, and the tender-hearted will be struck by the deep honesty of his words, inspired by the approach of his 50th birthday and his long process of adjusting to being single for the first time since getting married at age 20. There is certainly some sorrow here, but I don't sense a lot of bitterness or blame; he is willing to look at his own shortcomings, even admitting to the difficulties of being a busy musician trying to raise his kids in "A Father's Song."  He brings a hopeful light to the start of the second disc with "Love's Not Through With Me Yet;" the song builds to a big powerful finish, that brings his statement home with confidence.  This double CD is an ambitious endeavor; Darrell plays all the instruments, and with every song it is clear that this is a true labor of love.  I honor his faith and courage to open his heart for us all to see.
Darrell's site. Buy from amazon. Released May, '10. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

DARRELL SCOTT
Long Ride Home... (Full Light)
He's the songwriter behind such smash hits as "Long Time Gone" (The Dixie Chicks) and "Born to Fly" (Sara Evans). A highly regarded multi-instrumentalist, he has backed such luminaries as Emmylou Harris, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell and as of late, is a featured player in Robert Plant's Band of Joy band. Suffice to say those credentials alone are enough to confirm Darrell Scott as a monster talent. Oh yeah, he's a darn good singer. Whereas Scott's own recording career has never come close to scaling such heights of some of those he has backed, he has released a string of solid albums that straddle that line between traditional-leaning country and folk and do it quite well. His new release Long Ride Home is no exception. Recorded in his Nashville home, it is a throwback affair that eschews country comfort buoyed by esteemed old school Music City sideman like Hargus "Pig" Robbins (piano), Lloyd Green (pedal steel) and Kenny Malone (percussion) along with guest spots from the likes of Tim O'Brien, John Cowan, Patty Griffin and the aforementioned Clark and Crowell, to name a few. Long Ride Home is real-deal country. Recommended.
Darrell's site. Buy from amazon. Released Jan. '12, reviewed by Dan Ferguson.

RANDY SCRUGGS
Crown of Jewels...(Reprise)
Randy, son of Earl Scruggs, has been knockin' around Nashville, as a session guitarist and producer for a number of years. He's a good picker and an okay singer, and he has a lot of well known guests here. My guess is he told the record company that he would put together a nice commercial-sounding album  if he could slip a few instrumentals and traditional tunes. Well, it's those songs that work best, Emmylou Harris and Iris DeMent singing "Wildwood Flower" is almost worth the price of the CD alone. There are a few other good songs but there's a lot of fluff here. Check out Jerry Douglas' latest CD for a different approach to the same challenge, on a smaller label, with much better results.

DAVID SERBY
Another Sleepless Night... (Harbor Grove)

This one is not a bad foray into Texas flavoured honky-tonk country, but it doesn't really break any new ground. Information about the artist is scant, no website, no inserts, nada , so we're left with just the music. There's lots of cheatin' and hurtin' songs, pretty much de riguer for the format. There are some catchy tunes, some good playing, and the odd hint of greater potential, i.e. “You're Not Goin' Anywhere” has some flashes in amongst the standard phrases, but at the end of the day it all sounds overly familiar. Creativity is what gives one a jump on the competition, attracting attention as it were. Not enough here I'm afraid.

Order from CD Baby. Released 2007, reviewed by Don Grant.

RANDY SHARP
The Connection... (self released)
More folky than country, this new album by Sharp has a sort of understated grace to the singing and songwriting, much like Lyle Lovett and Guy Clark. Like Clark, Sharp can convey a ton of emotion in his songwriting, enough emotion to let his voice take a steady timbre and not really have to work that hard. That being said, Sharp has a pleasant voice somewhere between Lovett and Randy Travis in tone. The songs themselves are from various points in Sharp's development, a few dating back as much as twenty years. While I am not sure if Sharp has released any other albums before I can say he has done a fine job of cherry picking some great songs for this CD. Full of the little details and nuances that characterize great songwriting, Sharp's songs are generally of the story-telling variety, and are solidly constructed. If only Willie Nelson or Ryan Adams would show this much restraint in their song selections and as much quality in the songs they choose. They might not be the hacks they are today. Sharp has left the dross behind and given his fans a great album for their dollar. This would appeal to those who like Lovett, John Prine, Travis, Keen, Clark and good songwriting in general.
Buy from amazon.  Released Aug. 2002.   Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

SHAVER
Electric Shaver....(New West)
Billy Joe Shaver has a wonderful weather-beaten voice that he bravely stretches to high notes that lesser mortals would never attempt. The guy is just plain cool.  Makes me wish I was a woman, just so I could more easily understand my fondness for the guy. Earlier Shaver albums have been a little too heavy on the guitar for me, this one strikes a nice balance between the heavy and the more rootsy. Son Eddy seems to finally be over his Eddy Van Halen obsession and is now simply intent on complementing his father's pure and noble poetry while throwing in a few tasty licks where needed.  Produced by the other half of the "twang trust",  Ray Kennedy, this is just plain excellent blues-based roots-rock written and sung by a guy who should be designated a national treasure.
Best tracks: Thunderbird, Try And Try Again, New York City, People And Their Problems, Manual Labor, Heart To Heart. New West has a website.  There's a  couple Billy Joe Shaver  fan sites, 1 and 2.  Released May, '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

SHAVER
The Earth Rolls On... (New West)
Shaver has been the band name of progressive country veteran Billy Joe Shaver and his guitarist-son Eddy Shaver. Some of their earlier albums have sounded like a tug-of -war between the father's down-to-earth Southern sensibility and the son's wild rockstar guitar fantasies. They seemed to have finally found a common ground and Eddy had turned into a very tasteful young guitarist. Then, tragically, this past New Years Eve, Eddy Shaver died of a heroin overdose. As for the amazing , he's got to be one of the most courageous men alive. His songs have a way of being both raw and tenderly sweet. These are some of the most brutally honest songs I've ever heard. Some are about his wife, who also died recently and some are about his son Eddy. At a show at this year's SXSW, Billy Joe remarked that "everybody's gone to heaven but me." It's so sad that Eddy never got to hear the best album that he and his father ever did together. Go buy it and see what I mean.
New West Records, Billy Joe Shaver websites.  Released April, '01.  Reviewed by Bill Frater.

BILLY JOE SHAVER
Freedom's Child... (Compadre)
The first song "Hold On To Yours (And I'll Hold On To Mine)" on Shaver's new CD is a strong testament to the degree of Shaver's personal and musical maturity and ability to reach for  new levels of poignancy and depth with his songwriting especially when you consider the tragic circumstances of the death of his son not too long ago. On board to assist and guide Shaver as producer is R. S. Field, a name giving me confidence in whatever production I see it associated. Field wisely decides to keep any bells and whistles to a minimum, concentrating on the world-weary voice and powerful songwriting of Shaver. This is not an album trying to cajole you with Pet Sounds-alike sound experiments like some of alt.country's young mavericks who have seemingly discovered the Moog and gone crazy. This is a project centering on Shaver's songwriting and storytelling, allowing his emotions and experiences to relate wisdom few of us will ever reach. Todd Snider does a guest duet but this CD is all Shaver's and that's how it should be. If you like Cash, Van Zandt and Guy Clark this CD is going to hit home with you in a major way.
Buy from amazonCompadre Records' site.  Released Nov, 2002.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

BILLY JOE SHAVER
The Real Deal... (Compadre)
Billy Joe Shaver has been there and back and lived to tell about it. He has a way with words and melody that make him a musical treasure (and the late Johnny Cash's favorite songwriter). While sometimes playing it for humor ("Slim Chance and the Can't Hardly Playboys"), and occasionally clichéd (If the Trailer's Rockin'), most of Billy Joes songs are both earthy and transcendent, down home and spiritual. Shaver himself produced most of the tracks, relying on acoustic guitar and dobros to tell his stories. The opening track however, a remake of the excellent and uplifting "Live Forever", is slightly over produced by mainstream country stars Big and Rich. Personally,  I don't need to hear those clean, pristine harmonies replacing Shavers grizzled voice on the chorus. Me, I'll take the Real Deal, any time.
Compadre RecordsBuy from amazon. Released Sept, 2005.  Reviewed by Michael Meehan.

SAND SHEFF
Free On This Mountain... (self released)
I've got to go a long ways back to draw a comparison with this disc, like thirty some odd years. The harmonies and fiddle playing remind me of nothing so much as an album by Fraser and deBolt with Ian Gunther, from Canada, released around 1970, I believe. Bits of Bluegrass, some Mountain Soul, and, yes, there's a bit of Rock here as well, characterize a collection of songs that puts the emphasis on the song. While Sand, (and that is his real name), is the featured performer, he has the great good sense to recognize when one of his tunes is better showcased by another set of pipes, e.g. Cindy Trautmann on "Lord Go Easy". That's the mark of a true songsmith, when the music and its presentation take precedence over personal ego. From the notes in his bio, his resume includes cowboy, forest firefighter, author, wilderness vagabond, minister, and, of course, singer/songwriter. Talk about kicking one's ass around a lot of country! It's pretty obvious from whence his inspiration springs. If you live in Durango, Colorado, he's in your neighborhood; check him out.
County Road Productions has CD ordering info or order from CD Baby. Released early 2004, reviewed by Don Grant.

CHRIS SHIFLETT & THE DEAD PEASANTS
All Hat and No Cattle... (Side One Dummy)
Foo Fighter gone country! That’s what the headlines will read. The Foo Fighter in particular is long-time guitarist Chris Shiflett. With the new release called All Hat and No Cattle, Shiflett, along with his tidy and tight band The Dead Peasants, deliver nine slabs of solid gold hard country with one original from that same mold. To say this is a spirited set is putting it lightly. The album feels like these guys have been yearning to let it rip honky tonk style all their lives. A six piece including Shiflett, the fellows romp and stomp their way through C&W classics from the likes of Del Reeves (“Good Time Charlie’s”), Jim Ed Brown (the beer drinker’s anthem “Pop a Top”), Wynn Stewart (“Playboy” and “Happy Part of Town”), Merle Haggard (“Skid Row”), Faron Young (“Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young”), Buck Owens (“King of Fools”), Waylon Jennings (“Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?”) and Don Rich (“Guitar Pickin’ Man”). Being Southern Californians, there’s a definite nod to Bakersfield what with the Haggard, Stewart, Owens, and Rich covers. This is an album remindful of a few other West Coast rockers who went country, namely the Supersuckers and Mike Ness. This is actually the second foray into country by Shiflett and his Dead Peasants band, but this venture really dives into the 100-proof stuff. Serious or not, All Hat and No Cattle is pure country fun.
Artist's labels site. Buy from amazonReleased July, '13. Reviewed by Dan Ferguson.

RICHARD SHINDELL
South of Delia… (Signature Sounds)

An contemporary folk songwriter like Richard Shindell can have many reasons for doing a whole album of other writer's songs. He could be out of fresh songs or want to help some lesser–known writers, like Slaid Cleaves “Unsung”, or to pay tribute to his influences, like Lyle Lovett's “Step Inside This House". Shindell says these songs just felt like they belonged together. They're somewhat of a travelogue of living in North America, featuring many geographical locals, and focus on the struggle to survive. He covers everything from well known chestnuts by the Carter Family and Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan and Peter Gabriel and young label mate Jeffrey Foucault's “Highway 35”. The surprise choice is covering a song that seems like we've heard enough and no one could improve on it. That's Springsteen's “Born In The USA” and Richard pulls it off amazingly, making it sound like a new better song. The CD title comes from a line from the gorgeous closing song, Josh Ritter's “Lawrence, KS”. Aided by Richard Thompson, Eliza Gilkyson and Lucy Kaplansky, every song is draped in rich acoustic arrangements. This is a class act from start to finish.

Shindell's site. Signature Sounds. Buy from amazon. Released May, '07.  Reviewed by Bill Frater.

THE SHINERS
Bonnie Blue... (Planetary)
Contemplating a band called "The Shiners" before actually hearing them conjures up all sorts of images, only a few of which having to do with the music itself. The few that do (banjos, bluegrass, breakneck tempos - damn, all 'B's'!) are more present on this album than I though they would be. Not sure what I was expecting, I did think the cool connotation of "Shiner" would lead to something boringly mainstream in a kind of dual canceling out kind of way. I am glad I was wrong. This stuff smokes! The CD tray picture of the musicians does make them seem like some sort of crazy/in-bred family but the music is definitely not mainstream, going instead for a Deliverance-style banjo-rooted 'grass and country mix that makes my head swim and my feet dance. The songs are all clever as hell besides! For all yew cuntry boyz out there, this is sum of dat kewl stuff!
Check out Planetary's website for info and cheap CD ordering. Buy from amazon. Released Dec. 2001.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

THE SHINERS
See Rock City... (Planetary)
The Shiners have me fantasizing that they’re a bunch of 20 year olds living in an old shack in the hills in the backwoods of Richmond, VA, (if they have backwoods). The men lie around all day and make up songs between beer runs and listening to Skynyrd and Charlie Rich 8-tracks. The women play and sing too, between cooking grub and wearing tight t-shirts and shorts and... Oh well, fantasizing is great but the truth is The Shiners arose from the tasty ashes of Dirtball, another Planetary act. Wes Freed sings and writes a lot of the tunes, and while his voice isn't splendid, he sings and writes with comic conviction and he does all the funky CD cover artwork. It's mostly fiddle and banjo based, not really bluegrass or country, and not really rock either. It's just plain fun stuff. The CD closes with The Dillard's Dooley which just reaffirms my backwoods fantasy.
The Shiners' site on Planetary's site. Buy from amazon. Released Dec. 2002.  Reviewed by Bill Frater.

SHINYRIBS 
Well After Awhile... (Nine Mile)
Otherwise known as The Gourds' brilliant Kevin Russell, joined by various Austin friends, Shinyribs comes from an old childhood friend was always running around screaming "It's Shiny Time!" after the PBS Shiny Time Station show. Kevin thought it would be funny to use the term shinyribs as his online moniker, and it's stuck. Kevin has a way bout him, a unique take on life that is attached to popular trends.  I'm guessing here, but he give off an attitude, if you will, without the judgment attached. I don't get the sense that he has a lot of ego.  Let's just have some fun in the studio with these great 10 songs and we can call it whatever... how 'bout Shinyribs?  He somehow keeping Well After Awhile both twangy and funky, with his distinctive mandolin that owes nothing to Bill Monroe. I love the Gourds, and I can't see them ever breaking up.  But I also love the occasional solo album from Kevin with his great voice that has that southern swagger and a strong sense of melody.  He's always welcome on my "turntable" by whatever name he chooses.
Shinyrib's MySpace page. Buy from amazon. Released May. 2010.  Reviewed by Bill Frater.

SHOOT LUCY
Bipolar Expedition... (Smack Me)
While this has many rural overtones to it, upon listening to this CD I was more impressed with the band's poppy and punky side than with anything they were offering in the Americana style. In fact, there is actually little Americana on this CD at all. For the most part, the band gallops at a punky pace with supremely catchy melodies and an infectious spirit that draws you into the album. While country fans will probably find little to like, those with broader tastes and a more lenient definition of what qualifies as Americana will enjoy this album's passion and overall joyfulness. While this is music for a Saturday night, I am fairly sure you wont able to limit this great CD to just one day of the week. Pick it up!!
Order the CD from their swanky website, ShootLucy.com.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood

SHOT TO HELL
This Band Right Here Is Called... ... (Quadra)
Well, their name should give you a little clue as to how they sound... Punk-Country a la Wacos and Jason & the Scorchers is the basic frame of reference. They make a lot of noise for a trio and but they have more depth then most. All original tunes... here's some sample titles to further show where they're coming from: "Are You Goin' To Heaven?', "Watered Down Sedation" and "Mama Drove A Mack Truck". They look pretty young, hailing from somewhere in northern Wisconsin, and I bet they practice in one of their parent's garage. If it sounds like your kinda stuff then go for it.
They have a simple website, Shot2Hell.com.  Order from Miles Of Music. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

SHURMAN
Jubilee ... (Vanguard)

Shurman comes out of the Los Angeles Americana scene and Jubilee marks their debut with Vanguard Records. The music has a lot of southern rock colors stirring in it, in the Drive-By Truckers mode but lacking some of their originality. Shurman's got a confident live-group sound, the kind you get from doing 200-plus shows a year and being on the road enough to wear off all the sharp edges. Aaron Beavers has a likeable lead voice, and Jason Moore is all over this album on blistering lead guitar. Maybe this cd will earn the band opportunities to take more breaks from the road, allowing Beavers and company the time to develop a more unique and compelling brand of song.

"Shurmanville" Buy Jubilee from amazon. Released April, '05. Reviewed by Duke Lang.

THE SIDEWINDERS
Come And Get It.... (Blujazz)
When the swing and ska fads died off in the mid 90's, rockabilly was left much better for it and The Sidewinders' new CD, Come And Get It is the perfect example. The Sidewinders pull in influences from punk, rockabilly, surf, swing, and supercharge them with the guitar pyrotechnics of former swing-band guitarist Dan Peters. His playing is like Steve Vai meeting Brian Setzer for a triple Everclear shot -- intense. The songs are just as fun as the musicianship, obviously written to get people up and dancing. The two instrumentals do a wonderful job of showing off the trio's chops, and all of the songs give the guitar and vocals plenty of space. The production and mixing on the CD are just as good as the rest of the work. All the parts come through nicely, especially that intangible part: excitement. The Sidewinders are just another example of the fantastic music coming out of Chicago these days, and this CD is going to get played a lot.
The Sidewinders' site. Order from CD Baby. Reviewed by Clint Weathers.

ALBUM COVERTHE SIGNAL HILL TRANSMISSION
Home... (self released)
From the name it almost seemed as if this band would be one of those shoegazer-types or even Brit-pop. Well, it's pop all right but with a heavy emphasis on roots. Due to the band being a three-piece, stripped down machine the band decides to eschew all of the effects that normally get associated with classic pop and instead focus on the songs. And these songs are good. In fact, the worst thing about this CD is it's only got seven songs on it, pretty much EP length. Comparisons would range from catchier Mellencamp and Petty to even rootsier pop bands like Toad The Wet Sprocket and Athenaeum. No keyboards to clutter the mix and congeal the songs, just catchy sing along stuff with plenty of guitar and a rough and ready sound Great stuff for those roots rock fans that like their stuff melodic.
The band's website has bios, gigs, lyrics & more. Order from CD Baby or Miles Of Music.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

COLLEEN SILLVER
American Boys ...(Mustang)

It's intriguing at times how a geographical change can subtly influence a musical genre, the case in point here being bluegrass. There's a difference between the version as practiced on the west coast, and that performed in its habitual stronghold, the Appalachian/Smokey corridor. Colleen Sillver's debut would be an example of the former, strong on traditional instrumentation, musically faithful to the genre, yet difficult to pigeonhole as being ‘conventional'. Since she calls North Monterey County in California home these days, maybe it's the aridity of the desert and high mesas that changes the timbre of the stringed instruments from that imparted by the humid and fog-shrouded hollows of the east? Highly unlikely. Bluegrass originally was a form of quasi-rebellion and surcease against “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, the poverty, the droughts, the rapacious landowners, that plagued the poor of the Southeast, and here's what's missing from most western versions: that undercurrent of desperation, despair, even dancing while the house burns down around you, that lurks just beneath the surface of traditional bluegrass. Western bluegrass, for the most part, hasn't been tempered by the fires of adversity. What does all of this have to do with Colleen Sillver, and American Boys in particular? Well, it's fourteen original, and mostly upbeat, songs by Sillver that are strong on the afore-mentioned instrumentation, some very nice fiddle, mandolin, and banjo at work here. Lyrically, however, this disc is a case of where less would have been more. There is a finite amount of words that can be comfortably conjoined within any particular bar of music; pushing the envelope further produces a rushed and breathless effect, as in, for instance, the title track, and, “Trains Going By”. It's not the type of content so much as the quantity taken to express that content that's at issue here. Bluegrass doesn't need to be tinged with melancholy to be good, but it does need to be precise and succinct.

Colleen's site has CD ordering. Released Oct. '05, reviewed by Don Grant.

THE SILVERMEN 
Pioneers of the Intergalactic Frontier... (Ashland)
This album starts with the sounds of a spaceship landing and then blasts into one of the most tuneful examples of rockabilly and country heard in quite a while. I may be labeled a heretic here but while this album is polished, if Southern Culture On The Skids really wanted to rock they would try to sound like this. Instead of the redneck grease of The Skids, this band hits a wild space theme. Whatever. It's still great. Fans of tight harmonies will love this also as they are top notch. All in all, an exciting mix of rockabilly and straight country that is raw enough to excite yet polished enough to fit on the charts should radio actually find some taste.  
Check out their site... TheSilvermen.com for bio, tour and CD ordering info. Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

MARK SIMOS
Crazy Faith... (Devachan Music)
Mark Simos, one of the most original and compelling songwriters in the country, has just released one of the best records I’ve heard in a long time. Long a supplier of gold to bluegrass/pop genius Alison Krause & California’s favorite songbird, Laurie Lewis, Simos first solo recording is a fully realized and thoroughly satisfying effort. It features superb songs and stellar support from Bruce Molskey, Sally Van Meter, Tom Rozum and others. Unlike Gillian Welch, who can sound a little self conscious in her vintage sounding creations, Simos knows what century he lives in and crafts songs that reveal the influence of a varied musical history (folk, old-time, Celtic, pop) and marries this seamlessly to his modern poetic lyrical creations. I love this record. I wish I could give you some idea of what he sounds like by comparing him to another contemporary songwriter. I just can’t think of anyone who is doing what he’s doing. All I can say is, in the musical landscape of modern American songwriting Mark Simos is a deep well of cool, sweet, refreshing water. And Crazy Faith is the best drink I’ve had in a long time.
The label's Mark Simos pages. Order from CD Baby. Reviewed by Kevin Russell

SIN CITY INJECTORS
Full On Custom... (Four On the Floor)
The debut CD by this Wisconsin band can best be described as working class rock-n-roll. They blend the sounds of rockabilly with early AC-DC/Grand Funk/Bob Seger style rock, They also have a healthy taste of biker bar/ hot rod rally sound. In fact this band would be right at home at say a Hells Angels rally. I also detect the influence of Social Distortion, X and a slight hint of the Stray Cats. Despite the seemingly disparate influences, this is one fine start. I hope to hear more.
The band's site. Their label has CD ordering. Released in 2003. Reviewed by Keith Robb.

SIX MILE GROVE
Bumper Crop... (self-released)

Of late, there's been some pretty darn good music coming from over Minnesota way, and Bumper Crop, the Grove's fourth release, only enhances that impression. What's the buzz? Good, cleanly played, alt/country music that is rooted in the, (well, how else to say it?), the roots of early rock and roll. In those days, a band didn't need a whole shit-load of instrumentation to make great tunes, if they got the recipe right. The four guys of Six Mile Grove, brothers Brian and Brendan Sampson, drums and rhythm/lead vocals respectively, with Barry Nelson and Dezi Wallace doing everything else, have got it right enough to elicit praise from the likes of Jeff Hanna, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Bob Wootton, Johnny Cash and The Tennessee Three. Not too shabby for four youngsters from Lyle, (pop. 500), Mn., who, incidentally, happen to write all of their own stuff. Maybe it's true that people from those small towns really do see and hear better than most of us urbanites.

Their site is nice... Order from Miles of Music. Released March, '05, reviewed by Don Grant.

RICKY SKAGGS
Ancient Tones...(Skaggs Family)
This is Ricky's second straight-ahead Bluegrass album since he was turned away from the Nashville  establishment and took control of his own career. Bluegrass is what he loves and what he does best, and Bluegrass just doesn't get much better than this. The songs are mostly traditional tunes, making this CD kind of a Bluegrass for Dummies.  The difference from the old albums is the superior recording quality  and Ricky's "crackerjack" band, Kentucky Thunder, especially lead guitarist Bryan Sutton.  Skaggs and his band are carrying Monroe's "High Lonesome Sound" full-speed right into the next century.
Best tunes: Walls of Time, Lonesome Night, Mighty Dark To Travel, Give Us Rain, Little Bessie. Ricky's own label has a site, Ricky Skaggs Online, features band & tour info, and you can order the CD.  Released Jan. '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

RICKY SKAGGS
Bluegrass Rules!
....(Rounder)
For anyone who only knows Ricky Skaggs from his "Nashville" hits should know that he has substantial Bluegrass credibility. He recorded and toured with the great Ralph Stanley while he was only 16 years old and has always featured bluegrass in his live shows as well as hired mostly bluegrass sidemen. I think the death of Bluegrass founder and Skaggs-mentor Bill Monroe helped him decide to put out an extremly solid CD of mostly bluegrass standards. Ricky's vocals and mandolin playing are excellent, as expected, and his band is downright awesome. If you love Bluegrass, this is a must, and if you're not sure about the whole "hick-thing" of Bluegrass, well, get hip!
Rounder's site   Released Oct. '97. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

RICKY SKAGGS & FRIENDS
Big Mon:The Songs Of Bill Monroe... (Skaggs Family)
Producer Ricky Skaggs brought in some heavy hitters here to pay tribute to the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe. Included are The Dixie Chicks, Bruce Hornsby, Dwight Yoakam, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Patty Loveless and more. Thankfully, most of the arrangements are remain straight-ahead Bluegrass. The highlight is an early version of Monroe himself starting "Blue Moon of Kentucky" which immediately segues into John Fogerty doing a rave-up Rockabilly version of the same song. This is beautifully recorded and includes fine classic pictures of Bill Monroe and comments from the artists about his music. I think even the Big Mon himself would approve of this release.
Skaggs Family Records...also BigMonOnline has a dedication by Ricky and a Bill Monroe bio and audio clips.  Released: Aug. '00. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

THE SKEETERS
Easy for the Takin'... (Free Bound)
Easy for the Takin' is the third effort from The Skeeters and my first time hearing from them. I hope it's not the last. The best description I can give regarding their music would be straight-up country. The bear the influence of such traditional country artists as Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings and such neo-traditional artists like Dale Watson and Wayne Hancock. Stylistically, they keep it close to the ground so to speak, but they ain't afraid to mix it up some too.
The Skeeter's site has secure CD ordering. Released late 2004, reviewed by Keith Robb.

SKEETER TRUCK
Skeeter Truck... (Evo Bannet Music)

Slide guitar, washboard, banjo and bass –the three members of Skeeter Truck debut as a force with their fast-pickin, original songs and great feeling. The tear sheet talks about the usual wide range of musical influences, Blues, Bluegrass, Rock, but their sound reflects the difference between imitating their influences and actually integrating those influences to make a fun and interesting CD that says more bout the present than the past. How many bands use the banjo to drive a tune? And it works, and it's fun, and it makes you want to see them live. Instrumentals mix with songs on this CD – all energetically delivered with a tremendous amount of skill and humor. Their style is bare bones and simple which allows the space to hear how talented Skeeter Truck is; This CD is a good time in a jewel case.

The Truck's site has a link to CD ordering from Genuine Recordings of Austin, TX. Released in early 2004, reviewed by Kay Clements (KWMR)

THE SKYLIGHTERS
The Skylighters… (Red Beet)

Last Train Home is a fine young Americana band from Washington DC who moved to Nashville recently to find their fame and fortune. Eric Brace is LTH's lead singer, who enlisted bluegrass masters Jimmy Gaudreau and Mike Auldridge to help form this "moonlighting" band. They discovered a common love for the Louvin Brothers— evidenced by covering no less than five of their songs— and found a nice loose chemistry that shines through in their music. Brace and Gaudreau share the lead vocals; I especially enjoyed the voice of the former. Some swingin' tunes offset a few bluegrass classics and some resurrected gems like Norman Blake's “Last Train From Poor Valley” and Jim Croce's “Maybe Tomorrow”. Mike Auldridge, one of a handful of Dobro masters, sits behind the pedal steel guitar a lot with this band, playing with an unexpected amount of skill and brilliance. Definitely a great choice!

Red Beet's site has ordering info. Released Oct. '06, reviewed by Bill Frater. Edited by Rosie Frater.

SLEEPERCAR
West Texas... (Doghouse) 

This debut album simmered for several years on the back burner of singer/guitarist Jim Ward’s mind and, after some fine-tuning, it appears now along with a newly minted band. West Texas is definitely in the alt/country camp, featuring grinding guitar lines and vocals and harmonies that are dead ringers for the Kinks. Picture Ray Davies on a horse in the Llana Estacado, singing “Kings & Compromises”, and you’ll have a fair approximation. Standouts range from the urgent “Sound the Alarm”, through “Fences Down”, a pretty country ballad, to the bittersweet poignancy of “End Of A Year”. All in all, this one is one of the year’s stronger premiers. 

The band's site, and MySpace page. Buy from amazon. Released April, '08, reviewed by Don Grant.

SLIDE
Whipdang!
... (Your Name Here Baby)
This quartet from the Boston area has a real swampy-blues sound, like they spent more time listening to Howlin' Wolf than Hank Williams. This is their 2nd independently released CD and although they have a very "adventurous" roots style, the songs have slowly grown on me. S. Wolf Wortis is the guitarist, songwriter, and central figure in the band and his vocals have a "swagger" to them that actually reminds me of another singer who's last name rhymes with swagger. Anyway, cuteness aside, "Whipdang!" is a clever, bluesy and sometimes funky CD that is certainly better than what is blaring out of most "modern-rock" radio-malls these days.
Best tracks: Home, Sugar Fuzz, Swamp Rock, These Days Go. Slide's website. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

SLOBBERBONE
Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today... (New West)
Slobberbone reminds me of early Uncle Tupelo, casually alternating between sweet mid-tempo acoustic tunes and hard-slamming Punk Rock. While Uncle Tupelo may be best remembered as the forbearers of what is now Alt.Country, they were primarily a Rock band, as are Slobberbone.  The CD's a little discerning at first, but as it reaches the midway point, it all comes together rather wisely.  They're just a good Rock band that is comfortable grabbing some mandolins and banjos and picking out some gorgeous tunes.  Some of the songs might rock out too much for some ears, but the following song is usually a nice counterpoint.  Brent Best is the songwriter and he sings everything with a delightfully hoarse voice reminiscent of the Pogue's Shane MacGowan, minus the drunkenness.  Alt.Country fans who still feel the need to shake it up and should like this third album from Slobberbone.
New West's website. Released July, '00, reviewed by Bill Frater.

SLOBBERBONE
Slippage... (New West)
Despite the awkward band name, the ‘Bone have captured the hearts of an underground legion of alt.country fans disheartened by Uncle Tupelo's demise and the seeming selling out to the pop gods of former alt.country heroes like Wilco, Marah, Rhett Miller, and everyone's favorite silly boy Ryan Adams. The reasons the ‘Bone have come out of a relative nowhere to accomplish this feat have to do with their uncompromising love of early country as well as their allegiance to the simplicity and serious fun of Southern rock. Where Tupelo gained their cred by combining punk and old-time country. The ‘Bone have thrown out Johnny Rotten and replaced him with a Van Zant brother or two. To this end, the ‘Bone have unleashed their vicious guitar attack on their strongest batch of songs yet. Then again, the same bunch of fans who adore them might be upset with this album's harder rocking sound. In fact, little of the band's more introspective, country-ish touches are evident on this album. Instead, the band offers a surprisingly decent cover of the Bee Gee's chestnut "To Love Somebody" among the rockers. Does this mean the band is joining the heretical pack of artists like Adams, Miller and such who seem to be abandoning country? Can't really tell from this CD but it is their most accessible release yet, and should appeal to the average rock fan in addition to those who already like the ‘Bone. Those hoping for the band's signature mix of rock and country, though, are sure to feel the sting of their missing softer side.
Buy from amazonNew West's website.  Released Oct, 2002.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

BOBBY EARL SMITH
Rear View Mirror... (Muleshoe)
Way back in the Texas before progressive country, there was a band called Freda & The Firedogs that featured Marcia Ball and this guy, Bobby Earl Smith. The story goes that famed producer went to Austin in '72 to sign the band but ended up signing Willie Nelson and Doug Sahm instead. His compadre, Joe Gracey, who worked at the first cool country station, KOKE and started Jackalope Records, co-produce it. In those 30 years Bobby Earl and Joe know every great musician in Texas and half of 'em play on this CD. Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Johnny Gimble and Flaco Jimenez are just a few. Bobby has a gentle voice and an easygoin' style. Nice stuff, nice guy, pure and nice Texas music.
Order the CD directly from his website, BobbyEarlSmith.com. Released Nov. 2000, reviewed by Bill Frater

VALERIE SMITH & LIBERTY PIKE
No Summer Storm... (Rebel)
Move over Rhonda Vincent, Valerie Smith just hit town! While the former may have a perky wholesome appeal, the latter impresses as someone who has lived a whole life. Her dusky, Tanya Tucker-like vocals convey a tough vulnerability that says, “I’ve been up, I’ve been down and I’m still kicking.” This is clearly a singer, and a band, reared on bluegrass and country music but rather than re-create for the umpteenth time some historical rendition of bluegrass, they infuse the form with a fresh vitality in their approach and choice of material. This is modern bluegrass at it’s best. Sharp muscular instrumentals married to tender but raw vocals. Women had have an increasingly important place in bluegrass music in the last decade. One thinks of Alison Krause, Claire Lynch, Laurie Lewis and the aforementioned Rhonda Vincent, as some of the women who have broadened the appeal of bluegrass music. To that list we can now add Valerie Smith. Well worth checking out.  
Buy from amazon   ValerieSmithOnline.  Released August 2002.  Reviewed by Kevin Russell.  

CHRIS SMITHER
Hundred Dollar Valentine... (Signature Sounds)

I go back with guitarist Chris Smither, who was raised in New Orleans, studied Paris both for a while in public school and later in college, and migrated to New York and then Boston where at Club 47 he made his first major career notices. Smither would be on the folk festival scene (I'd see him at the Philly Folk Fest) and then "below the radar" for a few years, coming back like the Phoenix to attract new listens and re-engage with old fans. I liked his CD released in 2012 and was awaiting this one, surprisingly his first album of all original compositions. There are some real goodies here and Smither's guitar playing (and his tapping feet, which are almost a signature sound for him) is - as expected - superb. I guess the title track is my favorite. Even though Smither wrote all the songs, they aren't all new. There is a "hidden bonus track" (#11), which is his 1984 song "Rosalie" in what is described in the notes as An after-hours "B" Room Field Recording". It's just Chris with his guitar and minimal production. The album includes a 12 page booklet with the lyrics to the 10 songs which form thr core of the album (in easy to read typeface). Fans of Smither will enjoy seeing that, while - at age 67 - he continues to grow as a songwriter, he still looks back to where he's been.
Chris's website. Buy from amazon. Released June, '12, reviewed by Steve Ramm.

TODD SNIDER
Happy To Be Here... (Oh Boy)
After three major label albums, Snider is finally where he belongs.  On John Prine's Oh Boy Records he can play what he wants without someone telling him to amp up the rock.  Despite his young, opinionated attitude Todd is a folk singer at heart, cut from the same cloth as ol' Woody Guthrie himself.  Sure, he writes nice love songs like anyone else, but he's at his best doing cultural observations.  A song about a visit to an AA meeting is dead on and one where a guy's telling his honey that he wants a prenuptial agreement is gloriously sarcastic.  Ray Kennedy handles the production with bluesy, acoustic arrangements, even throwing in the odd horn sections.  Todd is at his loveable smartass best and this is my favorite album of his to date.
Oh Boy has a nice website... Released April, 2000, reviewed by Bill Frater.

TODD SNIDER
The Devil You Know… (New Door)

I have a hard time writing about Todd Snider albums and I'm not exactly sure why. I've meant to write reviews of his last 3 CD's and just never got ‘em finished. Just like his last few studio CD's East Nashville Skyline and New Connection, Todd mixes tender love ballads with funny and sardonic humor. He mixes styles up too, from solo acoustic to Stonesy rockers and maybe that's what bothers me. He leans heavier on the hard stuff here and tries to push his frail voice over the guitars and it doesn't always work. “You Got Away With It” is a brilliant send-up of George Bush without mentioning any names. More of these kinds of tunes would be good. “Looking For A Job” also works about a sheet rocker telling his boss off. "Thin Wild Mercury", is about an argument between Bob Dylan (who called his own Blonde On Blonde “thin, wild mercury music”) and folk singer Phil Ochs. Those'll be the ones that make it on his box set someday, and I hope he has a long and successful enough career to have one. I love the guy and his 'Aw Shucks' attitude but this one won't be remembered as one of his best albums.

Todd's official website. Buy from amazon. Released August, '06, reviewed by Bill Frater.

TODD SNIDER
Peace Queer... (Aimless)
Todd Snider is anything but predictable. This eight-song CD with the provocative title and the even more provocative cover art is a mixed effort from this humorous and often insightful artist/poet/social critic. His cover of John Fogerty’s “Fortunate Son” is a gem, as is his duet with Patti Griffin on “The Ballad of Cape Henry” that he co-wrote with Will Kimbrough. But overall, this is a puzzling at times project, with a spoken-word ramble (“Is This Thing Working”) that is repeated at the end of the record. It’s hard to complain about anything Todd Snider puts out because he is genuine, humble and always quirky. But this doesn’t stand up to some of this other efforts.
Todd's site. Order from Amazon. Released Oct. '08, reviewed by Barry Dugan.

SODAJERK 
Unhappy Hour... (self-released)
The drinking song used to be a time-honored tradition in the world of country music and some stars made careers out of releasing one drinking song after another. In the PC days that we're living in now it almost seems as if this sub-genre is being swept under the carpet. Not with this band, though. With song titles like "Betty Ford Pickup", "Drinking In The Key Of C", and "She Don't Like My Drinkin'", it seems the drinking song may be making a mighty comeback. They even include excerpts from the movie "Barfly" between a few of the songs. The music itself is a mixture of the kind of punkish country that Jason and the Scorchers are good at and Sun rockabilly revved up for the new millennium. High energy stuff for the most part and a cool album.
Their website, has bio, tour, audio and even a video.  Order the CD from Miles Of Music. Reviewed by Scott Homewood

SOLARBABY
Another Sidewalk's Bloody Dream... (Pale Horse)
When listening to an album this roots-rock rowdy I have to ask myself one question: why do some of the best sounding so-called Americana bands come from Canada? Not just known for Blue Rodeo anymore, Canada's kicking some major ass on the Americana scene, especially when bands this good can surface seemingly out of nowhere. A combination of Georgia Satellites, Tim Carroll and the V-Roys, Solarbaby manages to put out some rowdy country rock without compromising their often clever songwriting. The band has a goofy side as well, as the song "Benzedream" (great title) can attest, but what you got here is some great stuff to drive your blues away! It's not cerebral, it's not gonna change the world, but it will make you dance, sing and make you feel damn good inside. That's enough for me and more than I get from most of the music I have to suffer through. A pure joy. Get this if you like your country music with a little balls, some distortion and a hell of a lot of attitude.
The Solarbaby home page.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

SOLID AIR
Tailgates and Substitutes... (Globe)
These guys are from Sonoma County, where I live, but there is no denying they are a fine band that deserves to be heard far beyond their native Northern California.  Their sound centers on the strong, clear, alto voice of Allegra Broughton, who is also a gifted songwriter. Their "Alt.Folk" style is straight guitars, bass and drums, somewhere between the We Five and 10,000 Maniacs.  While they sometimes rely on pop song structures and there's a unfailing roots feel to their sound.  Two well-chosen cover tunes help rather then hurt this release.  The first is the Byrds classic, (where the album title comes from) "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" and they also tear up Johnny Cash's rockabilly gem "Get Rhythm". Without sounding too biased, I gotta say this is a tight and talented band with a bunch of strong songs. Shouldn't that be enough?
Best tracks: Little Bird, Whistle Of The Wheels, If You Took The Time, In The Summertime, Get Rhythm.  The band has a brand new site, the label's website, Globe Records has audio excerpts and tour and ordering info.  Released Aug. '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

SOLID AIR
Local Color... (Globe)
Apparently, Solid Air comes in two configurations. There's the original duet of Allegra Broughton on vocals and acoustic guitars, and Sam Page, who seems to be able to play anything that he can lay his hands on, and then there's the band version; Local Color is a product of the band version, and it's a winner. Stylistically, the disc ranges from the bluesy inflected “Troublemaker”, (very nice harp by Norton Buffalo), “Borderline” with a Mex-type accordian line, a straight-ahead country-rocker like “Rockaway My Cares”, (great fiddle), “Sticks and Stones”, a traditional ballad, for sure, to my favourite, “Pioneers”, life on the ‘Great New Western Frontier', an incisive bit of California social commentary. The only non-original materials herein are Steven Stills' “For What It's Worth”, and Lennon and McCartney's “Ticket To Ride”. While Stills' classic fares very well, as great songs can be interpreted in many diverse ways, I'm a bit ambivalent about “Ticket To Ride”. It's not a bad ditty by any stretch, but not the Lennon/McCartney apogee, either. It doesn't quite measure up to the quality of the rest of the CD. Next time use your own stuff; don't pretend that those guys write better than you do, Allegra, because they don't.
Globe Records has ordering info.  Released Jan. '05, reviewed by Don Grant.

BEN SOLLEE
Learning To Bend... (sonaBlast!/Thirty Tigers)
Ben Sollee is a Louisvile, KY, cellist who is with Abigail Washburn's Sparrow Quartet, along with banjo player Bela Fleck (it should be noted that both Washburn and Fleck make contributions on this album).  He shares with them an affinity for breaking down traditional assumptions about their instruments, the cello in his case. His style incorporates plucking the strings and percussive bow techniques to create a unique sound. More importantly he sings and write songs and he's quite good at both. “Bury Me With My Car” is a joyful fiddle-driven tune about America's obsession with their autos and “A Few Honest Words” is aimed at Bush with lines like “If you're gonna lead our country, if you're gonna say it's free, I'm gonna need a little honesty”. He adds some topical lyrics to Sam Cooke's oft-covered “A Change Is Gonna Come” to great effect. All in all, this is an entertaining and accessible collection of tunes.
Ben's site. His MySpace page has some nice videos. Buy from amazon. Released Feb. '07.  Reviewed by Bill Frater.

SON VOLT
Wide Swing Tremolo
... (Warner Bros)
Here comes Son Volt,  with their 3rd release, once again, a few months before Wilco's new one. Who knows if these ex-Tupelo's have an unspoken competition going on. This one rocks out a little more, with some sonic experimentation here and there. There's still a reasonable amount of Neil Young-style "twang" here to please fans of their earlier albums. Of  course, Jay Farrar is still the focal point, writing and singing lead on all the songs. Damned if I know what he's singing about most of the time.  The songs take a little longer to pull you in melodically, but they grab you eventually. I have to admit though, after 7 or 8 songs of Farrar's somber tenor voice, I was ready for a Jeff Tweedy song. This is a fine CD, I just feel that Uncle Tupelo were one album away from a  masterpiece.  We'll probably never get a chance to hear it. Both bands seem to be pulling farther away from the Alt.Country sound that they helped define. That saddens me a bit.

Favorite songs: Medicine Hat, Flow, Dead Man's Clothes,  Carry You Down, Streets That Time Walks, Hanging Blue Side. Warner's has a band site, with tour dates. Released Oct. '98. Reviewed by Bill Frater.


SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE SKIDS
Plastic Seat Sweat
...(DGC)
Take 2 guys and a girl, lock 'em in a trailer park in South Carolina with nothing to listen to but Duane Eddy and The B-52's, and you just might come up with Southern Culture on the Skids. These guys have a unique, slightly twisted sorta surf-boogie sound that is very danceable as well as very laughable. Just check some of the subject matter from the suggested cuts below. If you know SCOTS from they're first major label CD "Dirt Track Date", then you know their stuff, the new one is more of the same, though a little less varied. If you have a sense of humor, you might like their "Creedence-on-acid" sound. I think they're a lot of fun and recommend them to any young-minded Americana fans.
Best Tracks: Shotgun, Banana Puddin', Country Funk, Love-A-Rama, Carve That Possum.  SCOTS own site  It's as fun and irreverent as the band and it has RA samples of the whole CD, plus tour info and all the rest. Released Sept. '97. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

SOUTHERN CULTURE ON THE SKIDS
Countrypolitan Favorites… (Yep Roc)

I've always had a soft spot for a band that drops in a few cover tunes, whether on an album or on live shows; playing someone else's song can be an opportunity to show your influences or your eclectic tastes, and a good band can even find a different, unexpected take on an old song. SCOTS's new album does all of that and more, putting their own unique quirky stamp on 15 old rock and country chestnuts, most of them from the 60's. .From the oft-covered “Oh Lonesome Me” and “Tobacco Road,” to the never-covered Kink's “Muswell Hillbilly” and the Who's “Happy Jack,” it's a great ride from start to finish. Head Skids Rick Miller produces, and his sinewy reverb-laden guitar settings are inspired as always. As usual, Mary Huff joins him on most songs with harmony that owes more to John and Exene than to Conway and Loretta. Like a wedding band from a parallel galaxy, they have created a rollicking sound, and a twisted masterpiece.

SCOTS Shack. Yep Roc's SCOTS page. Buy from amazon. Released Feb. '07.  Reviewed by Bill Frater.


SPADY
The Long Way Around and Other Short Stories... (Post Script)

Is it possible for an artist to be ‘too' polished? Sometimes. According to his bio, Richard ‘Spady' Brannan has been in the business for nigh on forty years, touring with, writing for, sessioning for, just about everyone who's ever been ‘someone' in mainstream country music. Go to www.spadybrannan for verification. The trouble is, both here and with much of the mainstream, that there's been too much emphasis placed upon perfection. There's nary a note out of place, not a miscue to be heard, which is admittedly preferable to suffering through a bungling bozo band for sure, but it's just too damned perfect and sterile. It's not as if the man can't write; he's got some very good stuff happening here, “Trouble with Words”, “Trying to Hold the Wind”, some good Lee Roy Parnell slide work on “Fireflies” to hit a few. But… drum lead-ins for seven of eleven cuts? Eeuw, that's a bit formulaic Spady. You look from your photos as if you've got more than a few miles on your odometer, give us some of the rougher ones next time around.

Spady's site. Buy from amazon. Released Oct. '06, reviewed by Don Grant.


THE SPANIC BOYS
Torture... (Checkered Past)
The Spanic Boys are a father and son duo who have been living in the past for over 20 years now, and that's a good thing. They specialize and celebrate "Nuggets-era" rock and British Invasion pop. Everything raw and dirt simple, 2 Fender guitars, bass and drums. Oh, and for creative outlet they've added some harmonica on a few tracks. All of their original tunes sound vaguely familiar, and the high school love themes certainly aren't anything new but that's not the point. They've got this sound nailed, it's all well produced and well played. I love their spirit and their single-minded vision.
Well, of course, there's SpanicBoys.com.  Released Feb. '01.  Reviewed by Bill Frater.

DOUG SPARTZ & FRIENDS
American Stories, Lies & Tales... (Phono)

Quite simply and succinctly, you'd be hard put to find a better compilation of Americana than this independent offering by Doug Spartz et. al. Starting with the tear-jerking vocals of the opening cut, “Number 29 (The Rocket)”, the listener knows that this one is ‘the real McCoy'. Next up is a swinging little ditty called, perversely, “Nothin' Much”. If this toe-tapper is nothing much, I don't know if we could take ‘something much'. “Love Minus Zero”, featuring Billy Lee Riley, is a do not miss version of the Dylan classic. All told, there are a grand total of sixteen tracks on this anthology of Americana. Anthology? “Wake Me Up And Slap Me”, “Hot Rod Lincoln”, “Sunshine”…, yup, that's what an anthology would be. Although almost half of the tunes are originals, the whole project gels so well that one has to check the credits to pick the new ones out. A personal favourite here is “Fall of ‘64”, with its bittersweet line: “Dyin' boys are staring at the angels standing there, nuthin' here is civil in the fall of ‘64', Jesus can't help cryin' in the fall of ‘64”. It never ceases to amaze and impress me how a good songwriter can describe and convey so much in a few short lines. Have a cigar for this one Doug; ‘tis a very good show indeed.

Doug's site. Order from CD Baby. Released Aug. '06, reviewed by Don Grant.

DOUG SPARTZ & FRIENDS
The One Who's Leavin'
... (Great North Music)

It's always a treat when Doug Spartz releases something new. First off, he always gives you your money's worth: twenty tracks of originals and covers totaling a shade over seventy-seven minutes is what this one presents. Second, his Friends comprise, amongst others, the likes of Tom Gillam, Jay Boy Adams, Billy Lee Riley, and Eilen Jewell. Third, as seen through the prism of his unique musical vision, he breathes new and unexpected life into stuff like Jimmy Webb's “Galveston”, of Glenn Campbell fame, the Beatles' “Golden Slumbers”, (which, with the assistance of Sarah Jo Roark, becomes a classic all over again), and something as totally off the wall as “All The Young Dudes”, which he titles “Dude's Dream #26. As in last year's American Stories Lies and Tales , Spartz covers all of the Americana bases, everything from folk, rock, soul, bluegrass…, hell, this man doesn't miss a trick. Spartz has had a few left turns health-wise, but he has thankfully bounced back. Fear not folks, he's not going to be The One Who's Leavin' any time soon.

Doug's site. Order from CD Baby. Released June, '07, reviewed by Don Grant.

AMY SPEACE
The Killer In Me... (Wildflower)
The 2006 release Songs for Bright Street from Amy Speace was a breakout of sorts. The combo of solid, headstrong original songs and vital assists from name players like Gary Louris (Jayhawks) and James Mastro (The Bongos) found Speace forging a sound that piqued ears on the Americana front. Mining similar sonic terrain, the new The Killer in Me finds Speace opening a vein and letting her emotions pour out in song. The result is a dark and deep outing on which Speace takes another giant leap forward as a writer and singer. With a move to Nashville coming soon, one only wonders how long it'll take for a Faith Hill or someone of that ilk to discover Speace's songwriting talent. 
Amy's site. Order from CD Baby. Released June, '09, reviewed by Dan Ferguson.

SPIGOT
Bait and Switch... (Cameltoad)
One weird CD this. And one that gave me one hell of a good listen! Filled with bluegrassy/old-timey country songs sung by singer and songwriter Nann Alleman, this CD is almost the equivalent of an old Spike Jones album. Jones was a '40s/'50s novelty musical act known for his humorous songs and for throwing in any kind of instrumentation, including pots and pans as percussion. Alleman and her band mates don't go quite that far, but they use everything from washboards to "bellyslaps" for percussion and the songs are definitely fun and often hilarious, filled with made-up words and in-jokes that certainly confound me, including one reference to "hooley hooley chicken" that cracks me up when I hear Alleman's high, nasal voice sing it. A toilet is also referred to as a "swirly-swirl" in a song about the female character's cat. Anyone into novelty songs with an old-timey bluegrass bent will enjoy this. Get it for the crazy lyrics alone!
The band has a nice website, SpigotBand.com, with CD ordering info.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood

SPLIT LIP RAYFIELD
Split Lip Rayfield.....(Bloodshot)
I guess this band plays what you might call  "Insurgent Bluegrass", and leave it to Bloodshot Records to support this marginal corner of the musical world. There's only so much room for bands like the Bad Livers or Moonshine Willy and Split Lip Rayfield are  missing the ironic humor and variety of styles that make those other bands great.  Most of the songs here are originals and they're frantic and  fast-paced. These punks from Kansas actually pick pretty good-mostly banjo, guitar and a single-string "tank" bass. I support their existence... I just don't get much from listening to this CD.
Bloodshot Records. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

RICK SPREITZER
from the bottom... (self-released)

The opening chords of this CD told me that I was on to something good, something very good. Track one, “roll back”, has a cool bluegrass pulse that features some excellent fiddle and banjo, and the momentum builds from there. Yes, there's a definite bluegrass influence happening here, it's bluegrass a la Steve Earle, who Spreitzer incidentally not only has a passing vocal resemblance to, but at times could be mistaken for lyrically. Not having heard either of his first two releases, Dirt Tracks and Meanderthal, (gotta like that title), it's difficult to assess his performing evolution, but stuff like this doesn't happen merely by chance, you can count on that. With the stellar assistance of a retinue of some of North Carolina's finer musicians, Spreitzer has produced a disc that can more than hold its own alongside some of the best that the Americana genre has to offer. He has garnered a whole raft of songwriting awards over the past few years, and the first listen to this gem affirms the perceptiveness of those judges. Individual track credits are not provided for his several female backing vocalists, which is a shame, because I could perhaps be persuaded to fall in love with more than just the music herein.

Rick's site. Order from CD Baby. Released Feb '06, reviewed by Don Grant.

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions… (Columbia)

If you haven't heard about this CD yet, this is nothing like anything Bruce has done before. He's covering songs associated with the great folk singer Pete Seeger, who I will also assume you know who he is. Given today's political climate, I expected to hear more of the protest and civil right songs but other than the beautiful “Eyes On The Prize” and the title tune it's mostly old public domain songs like “Froggie Went A Courtin'” and “Old Dan Tucker”. The remarkable factor is the use of a huge, yet never overpowering, band that features banjo, fiddles, accordion and a second-line horn section. It all comes together quite nicely and gets pretty rollicking sometimes. He treats long forgotten gems like “Mary Don't You Weep” with great reverence and even transforms the over-done “John Henry” into something new and fresh. I suppose this is true Americana music, drawing on bluegrass banjo, Cajun music and gospel and traditional jazz and more. It's a nice ride, if you love or at least don't mind Bruce's vocal style, the way he shouts everything out. This could be the revival of hootenannies!

Buy from amazon. Released Apr. '06.  Reviewed by Bill Frater.

MICHAEL STADLER
North Country... (Little Dead)
Stadler is a Bay Area multi-instrumentalist whose CD looks and sounds like the work of an acoustic veteran rather than a debut release. Tastefully mixing elements of folk, old timey, bluegrass and a respectful dash of classic country to make a unique blend that's fits as comfortably as a well-worn pair of jeans. His smoky voice exudes a humble confidence, going from a soft whisper to a moaning wail. The title and a few of the songs pay homage to his northern Michigan roots where they have real winters. Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum help out on a few tracks and Jon Mitguard adds some fine steel. The bottom line is always the songs and I like the mix here- a few instrumentals, some nice originals, Nick Lowe's “Rose of England” and an obscure Buck Owens tune all combine to make it a great ride. He closes with a cool triple fiddle tune “Chop Another Cord” (all played by Stadler) that is a highlight.
Stadler's website. Order from CD Baby. Released Aug. '05, reviewed by Bill Frater.

MAX STALLING
Comfort In The Curves...(Blind Nello)
Drop this CD in the player and enjoy.  This record is what Nashville wishes they could sound like: Country without the production overload that compensates for the utter lack of melody and lyric defining most country music today. Max Stallings and his band play straight Texas-style country. No fluff, no filler!
Fav picks...I-35, Might Have Been in Austin, Come Around, Fermented Evenings, These Things That I Don't Dare. He has his own site MaxStalling.com. and Blind Nello has one too, but it'll just send you back to Max's site. You can order the CD from Miles of Music. Released in early '99, reviewed by Kay Clements (KWMR)

MAX STALLING
One Of The Ways... (Blind Nello)
When you're a music journalist, there is one word that's more important than any other: comparison. Finding a suitable comparison is a music journalist's ultimate goal. When listening to a new artist, or any artist for that matter, to be able to compare it to someone else that a reader may have heard so that they can decide whether to take a chance and spend their money on a new CD is the very key to what a music writer does. So, in that frame of mind, I am listening to this new CD by Max Stalling. A CD in which he writes all of the songs, sings masterfully and plays decent guitar as well. And, as I am listening, I am trying to come up with that all-important comparison, a comparison which will make the lightbulbs in everyone's head light up with recognition and make people immediately know if they want this CD or not. What do I come up with but James Taylor. And to narrow it down, I would say a country-ish James Taylor if Taylor were more influenced by Guy Clark than, say, folk music. Both Taylor and Stalling have a kind of brittleness to their voices and Stalling tends to make the same observations in his lyrics that Taylor does in his. Both can tell a story in painstaking detail and both can cut through the bullshit and go straight to the bone too. Not a perfect comparison, I know, but I think it tells you what it needs to. As for me, I'll just go back to listening to Stalling's fine new CD. It hasn't left my player for days.........
MaxStalling.com, Blind Nello's Site. Order from Lone Star Music. Released Nov. 2002. Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

Cover ImageRALPH STANLEY
Ralph Stanley... (DMZ/Columbia)
With this new release on Columbia Ralph Stanley has put out his most satisfying record in years. Not that his stuff with the Clinch Mt Boys was ever bad. Indeed,  Dr. Ralph is consistently good but this record takes him to the level of greatness. Guided no doubt by producer T Bone Burnett's impeccable ear, this new CD is the natural extension of what was presented on the "Oh, Brother" soundtrack. It's not really bluegrass but more like pre-bluegrass mountain music. Call it old-time country music. In any case, it's the REAL real deal. All the powerful themes found in enduring mountain folk music are here: murder, love, God, home. Backed with subtlety and superb taste by Norman Blake, Stuart Duncan, Mike Comptom and Dennis Crouch, Ralph hasn't sounded this powerful, this vital, this creative in years. Ralph Stanley, like Doc Watson, is a link between old mountain music and the "folk-music-in-overdrive" sounds of bluegrass. In short, he's a national treasure and a true artist who, at age 75, continues to generate some of the sweetest, darkest, deepest music you'll ever hear.
Columbia's Ralph site. Buy from amazon  Released June 2002.  Reviewed by Kevin Russell.

THE STANLEY BROTHERS
An Evening Long Ago... (DMZ/Columbia)
Another Ralph Stanley offering from T Bone Burnett’s new DMZ label. While that first Ralph CD found him in a contemporary setting with a stellar cast of bluegrass heavy hitters, this newest CD is pure vintage Stanley Brothers. Recorded in one take late on a night in 1956, this recording captures all the rawness, sweetness, drive and mountain soul of the brothers at their peak. Much, if not most, of the material will be familiar to Stanley Brothers fans. Still, there’s a great mix of hard banjo-driven bluegrass, gospel and secular songs, instrumentals and those impossibly gorgeous brother harmonies. Hearing Ralph’s humorous, “My long skinny lanky Sarah Jane, is a complete hoot, & alone, is worth the price of the CD. But then this recently revived gem is loaded with one masterful performance after another. If you, like me, love the Stanley’s engaging energetic style, this is a must have. Just a perfect vintage bluegrass recording.
Buy from amazon  Released March, '04.  Reviewed by Kevin Russell.

MAVIS STAPLES
We'll Never Turn Back... (Anti -)

This album is the best thing Mavis has done on her own -- by a country mile on the 61 Highway. Ry Cooder produced it, brought in some top-drawer players. Ladysmith Black Mambazo tips in on three tracks. Mavis dedicates the album to Moms and Pops, recalling how the family's music changed in the sixties, going beyond gospel, adding songs that rallied spirits during the Civil Rights movement. Pops Staples said, after hearing a speech by Martin Luther King Jr, "If he can preach it, we can sing it." Freedom songs, then, about the way it was, the way it is, the way it ought to be. Mavis sings with guts and conviction, even if her voice is showing some mileage now. Cooder adds his expertise to this bluesy, soulful outing. This is a record that raises you up, makes you want to believe that, despite the odds, anything is still possible in 21 st Century America. You know it's a good record if it can give you that feeling.

Mavis' site. Buy from amazon Released April, 2007. Reviewed by Doug Lang.


THE STAR ROOM BOYS
This World Just Won't Leave You Alone... (Slewfoot) 
Sometimes reviewing roots/alt.country records is a lot like being the title character in the movie The Island of Dr. Moreau. Sometimes the latest artists sound like two other artists combined together, maybe as some sort of freakish experiment. While I find myself wishing artists would make their own original statements, it's hard not to like stuff that sounds a little like some of your other favorite artists. Take this band, the Star Room Boys, for instance. While they're from Athens, GA, the band has perfectly captured the pathos and utter hopelessness of Merle Haggard's best work and combined it with the more traditional country sounds of the Derailers, who are just aping the classic Buck Owens Bakersfield sound. While this is more Hag than Bakersfield Buck, every thing from the steel to the solos are placed perfectly and the songs could have been lifted from the '50s or '60s, they are that solid. Too derivative? Only for the most jaded music snob. If it makes you feel good do it, and if it sounds good, buy it. Buy this as soon as possible.
Check out Slewfoot's site. Released Feb. 2002.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

THE STAR ROOM BOYS 
Why Do Lonely Men And Women Break Each Others Hearts... (Checkered Past)
Checkered Past hasn't released any twang CD's lately and I was starting to wonder if the tasteful little label was changing their musical direction.  They  made up for the lost time by putting out this great debut CD by  the Athens, Georgia band, The Star Room Boys.  It's traditional- sounding Country waltzes and shuffles, with some fine pedal steel  in the mix.  Dave Marr writes the tunes and his Haggard-inspired weepers sound as if he's had his heart broken more than once.  His voice is deep like Richard Buckner but with a nasal-twang reminiscent of Dwight Yoakam.  I haven't enjoyed an album that sounds traditional without sounding too derivative since Mike Irelands' Learning How To Live.  Mighty fine stuff.
The band's site, starroom.com, has photos, reviews, tour info and more. You can order the CD from Checkered Past. Reviewed by Bill Frater

RAILFORD STARKE
Speak Me... (Seminole)
Originally released in 1999, we have just discovered this album  and wanted to let you in on it. The story behind this recording is that Starke met songwriter Dickie Wildon who gave him his first guitar and mentored him musically. He was advised to wait until the dawn of the millennium and then cut a CD and make yourself a star. Well, he probably won't end up as a star anytime soon, but he managed to cut his CD in time. Most of the songs are written by the late Wilson but Starke acquits himself well and shows he has a lot of personality and a great sense of humor with this interesting, never boring straight country disc. Is it genius? No, but it is a pretty good debut from an artist with personality to spare. A great beginning, and hopefully a sign of something great on the horizon.
His website has CD ordering info. Reviewed by Scott Homewood

JENNIE STEARNS
Sing Desire... (Blue Corn Music)
This music has an old house around it and Jennie Stearns is sitting on a chair, up late, looking out a window. A longing haunts these songs, faint hum of electrical wires outside. Stearns's lyrics seem intently inhabited one moment, then spill like beads from a broken string the next. A Lucinda weariness in her voice that effectively contradicts the lightness of her singing. Old Crow Medicine Show's Willie Watson joins Jennie for two duets. Chad Crumm co-produced with Stearns, adds touches of atmosphere and surprise. Light on the drums, this is an acoustic record – guitars, bass, touches of banjo and fiddle, keys, even cornet – with Crumm's archived sounds widening the landscape. The songs go together well, almost to a fault at times by their seamlessness. Stearns's next record is already finished, produced by Gurf Morlix, and she says it's the one she's highest on. Sing Desire is one to be proud of, too.
Jennie's site. Order from CD Baby. Released Sept. 2005. Reviewed by Doug Lang.

THE STEELDRIVERS
The SteelDrivers ... (Rounder)
Go back over the last decade or so and all too many bluegrass band have a sterile quality to them; lots of slick picking and pristine singing, but completely devoid of soul. Nashville-based collective The SteelDrivers on their debut recording spit in the face of perfection when it comes to bluegrass offering up 11 tunes chock full of grit and soul. Comprised of a collection of Music City vets (Chris Stapleton, Mike Henderson, Tammy, Richard Bailey and Mike Fleming) who've earned their respective stripes in everything from hard and alt country to blues and rock, The SteelDrivers' frills-free, lunch bucket approach to bluegrass results in an album as satisfyingly soulful as a shot of the finest Kentucky bourbon.
SteelDriver's web site. Buy from amazon. Released Jan. '08, reviewed by Dan Ferguson.

THE STEELDRIVERS
Reckless... (Rounder)
Once again in contrast to the pristine (i.e., sterile) sounds of all too many bands out there playing bluegrass, the Nashville-based super group of sorts The SteelDrivers keep to the same rough-edged-but-right formula on sophomore release Reckless that made their self-titled debut the great listen it was. A who's who of long-time Americana types who've dabbled in everything from hard to alt country and blues to folk, The Steeldrivers feature Mike Henderson, Tammy Rogers, Chris Stapleton, Richard Bailey and Mike Fleming. The dozen songs comprising Reckless move from fast moving hard drivers ("The Reckless Side of Me", "Guitars, Whiskey, Guns & Knives") to laments knee deep in country tonic ("Good Corn Liquor") to a heapin' helping of broken hearted balladry ("You Put the Hurt On Me") to grassy numbers with a bluesy tinge (the standout track "The Price", "Higher Than the Wall", "Ghosts of Mississippi"). If you like your bluegrass with an edge, Reckless from The Steeldrivers is pure satisfaction.
SteelDriver's web site. Buy from amazon. Released Sept. '10, reviewed by Dan Ferguson.

STELLA
Blue Heart... (Raptor)
It's funny that Stella Parton goes so far as to leave her surname off of her album to distance herself from her more famous sister Dolly but then does nothing but copy Dolly's various sounds over the years for her new album. Now, I realize that sisters cannot help but sound a little alike, but Stella's thefts go far beyond family similarities. Not only does she copy Dolly's "classic" country sound of the early '70's (sounding horribly out of date that it's almost comical), she also goes after the current bluegrass sound that Dolly has used to revitalize her own career. It's really sad listening to this. It's obvious Stella has a decent voice and can write a song good enough to gain some notice. Why doesn't she just make a conscious effort to break away from her sister's shadow and try to come up with her own identity?  She's never going to be more than a footnote until she does.
StellaParton.com has song samples and CD ordering info.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood

JL STILES
Land Of The Plenty... (self released)
The first two cuts of JL Stiles' record serve up feel-good grooves that recall Into The Mystic (at a shuffle clip) and getting high on Johnny Rivers' Mountain Of Love down at the Whisky A Go Go. Toss in a sprinkle of social commentary and, before you know it, damn if you don't want to listen to the same two tunes a few times over. Guvna's Funk features some knife-sharp guitar and an intense Stiles vocal. A lot of roots inform the record, the songs are personable, and Stiles blows some strong harmonica to pull it all together. The San Francisco-based Stiles, who did some growing up in New Orleans, stands out as an artist worth watching out for.
Stiles' site. Order from CD Baby Released August, 2005. Reviewed by Doug Lang.

STOCKCAR NAMED DESIRE
Low To The Ground... (Wampus Cat)
What a great band name! It's rare when the name of a band so accurately represents the music they play but Stockcar Named Desire handles that perfectly here. A rollicking rockabilly record with the unsuspected twist of adding piano (and even organ!!) to the lineup, this is sure to get you revved up and going just like Jayne Mansfield did to teenagers back in the '60's. The group blends covers and originals into a seamless blend of primal rock and roll power that brings to mind the street fight scene in West Side Story if only the gangs were using guitars and drumsticks instead of knives. The guitars cut, the drums pound, the bass throbs and the piano careens all over the place as if the road has a thousand turns. Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent would be proud of the CD. Great stuff.
Their web site.  Song samples and ordering info from CDNow.  Released Feb, 2001.   Reviewed by Scott Homewood .

STONE CITY STRAGGLERS
The Last Resort... (MoatzArt)
If anyone ever asks you what "Americana" is, lend them this CD. The Last Resort, the second CD from the Joliet, Illinois based Stone City Stragglers is the second sign (the success of Bloodshot Records being the first) that the true heart of country music isn't in Nashville, but Chicagoland. Their vocals are top-notch. On "Passing Lane," Allison Moroni puts down a challenge to Neko Case's claim to the throne of Patsy Cline. The entire CD, from stem to stern is full of harmonies tighter than a drum. The lyrics are substantial, with real feeling in them. Songs like "Things Left Unsaid", "One Night," and "Wicked Moon" go right to the heart. The musicianship is wonderful, going from traditional country to latin-tinged to straight up Americana and back again with nary a hitch. Neither dry and flat nor over-produced, the production and engineering are on par with the music. The harmonies are nice and even, the instruments are all easy to hear, and that "being right there" feeling comes through. What might be the best thing about The Last Resort is that the Stone City Stragglers have clearly found their voice and direction. The CD isn't just a collection of songs - it's a statement, and I like what it says.
Their web site. Order the CD from CD Baby. Reviewed by Clint Weathers.

THE STONE COYOTES 
Born to Howl... (Red Cat)
It's natural for a musician that has studied his craft to wear his influences on his/her sleeve but this album kind of takes it to extremes. While the Stone Coyotes are capable musicians, they have seemingly gone out of their way to make their songs sound like their favorite bands. The lead singer, Barbara Keith, has a pleasant enough voice in a Sheryl Crow sort of vein but she and the band use their talents(?) to slavishly invoke ZZ Top on the first cut (Shake), grab a Stones vamp and turn it into a whole song (Torn Asunder) on the next and go from song to song pretty much copying one band after the other. If I didn't know better I would think the band got tired of being asked to play cover songs in bars and decided to copy them so they could sneak them in during their sets. While the musicianship is adequate, one would hope that the band would have come up with a few musical ideas of their own.
Info and CD ordering from the band's site, StoneCoyotes.com.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood

STONE RIVER BOYS
Love On the Dial... (Cow Island)

Western soul is what they called it and no one did it as well as the Hacienda Brothers. With the passing of lead singer Chris Gaffney in Spring of 2008, the Hacienda's lost their "ace in the soul." Not long after, the remaining members, led by guitarist Dave Gonzalez (The Paladins), regrouped as the Stone River Boys enlisting ex-Hollisters front man Mike Barfield for vocal duties. In the robust voiced Barfield, the spirit of the Hacienda's lives on with proof in the pudding being the SRBs' debut longplayer called Love On the Dial for Northampton-based roots label Cow Island Records. Based out of Austin, Texas and now settled into an Austin-heavy configuration with Gonzalez' twang-centrics on guitar the engine driving this machine, Love On the Dial is equally knee-deep in Bakersfield brand country as it is blue-eyed soul with its 14 tracks nothing short of infectious.

Cow Island's website. Order from CD Baby. Released May, '10, reviewed by Dan Ferguson


KEVIN STONEROCK
Stranger In This Town... (Two Moon)
I could have a lot of fun with this guy's last name and juxtapose it with his music, which turns out not to be Stoner-rock but actually a blend of folk and country that comes off sounding a little like James Taylor's music as sung by Gordon Lightfoot, but I won't because the music here is actually pretty good. The very Lightfoot-like Kevin is joined by three more Stonerocks (I would have to assume they are all related) in his very capable band and the resultant sound is a very well-textured mélange that thankfully turns what could have been a bland melding of folk and lite rock into something a lot more meaty and meaningful. While nothing to set the world alight, this is a very, very solid CD and bodes well for Stonerock's future. He's definitely a talent worth watching.
Order from CD Baby. Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

STOOK
The Soundtrack To My Minneapolis... (self-released)

While I'm certain that all of us have a bit of a love/hate relationship with computers and digital technology, occasionally a reason comes down the pipe that makes me, at any rate, say, “Gee, these things have some redeeming features”. Given the obsession of the brand names with quarterly earnings and pop-culture marketability, it is unlikely that this little gem would have found its way to my doorstep without the assistance of the afore-mentioned irritants. Produced by bassist Caleb Garn in the basement of their Minneapolis duplex, The Soundtrack To My Minneapolis is the debut release of singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Joshua Stuckey, (Stook). His music and voice have been compared to Tom Petty's, which is acceptable, so long as the music definition is restricted to his early work, when he was still gutsy. If a comparison is needed, then I'd go with the Rolling Stones when they forayed into country in the early Seventies: raw and raunchy, (“When It All Comes Crashing Down”, “Deliverance From Your Eyes”, “She Tried To Break My Heart”), then suddenly detouring into quieter and more pensive territory, (“22 nd Street”, “One Blue Teardrop”, “I Keep On Falling In Love With You”). What's more, Stook can tickle the ivories as well as Nicky Hopkins, and he's got some riffs that are Richard's equal; his writing speaks/sings for itself. This one is most definitely not one of those pain-in-the-ass “illegal operations”.

Their web site has tour info. Order from CD Baby. Released Dec. '05, reviewed by Don Grant.

JIM STRINGER & THE AUSTIN MUSIC BAND
Swang!... (The Music Room)
The Swang title is a composite of swing and twang and the album contains that and much more, including jump blues, country and 50's style rock and roll.  It's all fun and danceable stuff including  9 cover tunes written by the likes of Louis Jordan, Hank Snow, Artie Shaw and Bobby Bland.  The AM Band grew out of a bunch of guys getting together every week at Austin's Carousel Lounge and having fun working out some old songs.  They're all great players with other musical obligations and what pulls it together is their casual style and the amusing choice of tunes.  Stringer's regular gig is with the Rockabilly combo Git Gone so while still displaying his early-Elvis vocal style, this album showcases his versatility on the guitar and gives the other band member some mic time too.  They obviously had a fun time making this album.
  Best tracks: Texas and Pacific, Bye-Bye Bayou, Long Black Limousine, Ninety Miles Per Hour (Down a Dead End Street), Special Delivery Stomp, Sick, Sober & Sorry, No Love Have I. Check out their site off of Music Room for bio and gig schedule. Released May '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

JIM STRINGER & THE AM BAND
In My Hand... (The Music Room)
Austin and Chicago have been duking it out for the title of "Home Of Real Country Music" and with this CD, Jim Stringer & His AM Band land a hard left hook right to Chicago's kisser. Without ever sounding cliche, the Texan's original songs on this CD bring in a touch of bluegrass, a touch of folk, a touch of polka, a touch of western swing, a touch of Gothic Americana, and a whole lot of authenticity. The covers are wonderfully chosen, with Joni Mitchell's "Raised On Robbery" being a wonderfully executed surprise that gets a lot of play on my iPod. The musicianship is executed well enough that the playing frames Stringer's voice -- a wonderful, rich baritone -- and lets him weave stories for us. The songs can be a bit dark, but even the dark ones celebrate what is happy in life. The production is also well done, crystal-clear and mixed expertly so the feeling of being right there comes through nicely. This CD is a 38 minute clinic on how to write, perform, and engineer a real country CD -- a clinic that Music Row would do well to attend.
Jim's site. Buy from amazon. Released May '04, reviewed by Clint Weathers.

CHRIS STUART & BACKCOUNTRY
Mojave River... (Backcountry Music)

While Southern California is probably better known for movie stars and beaches than banjos and high tenors, there has always been a flourishing music scene and bluegrass has always been part of it. Based around San Diego at the bottom of the Golden State, Chris Stuart and Backcountry deliver a CD of solid original music..You don't picture this band in suits and tight collars but then, when you don't have to play so fast to keep warm, you can loosen up the tempo and give the music the relaxed feel of the coast itself- not that they can't pick up the pace when warranted. The CD opens with a banjo driven Dollar Bill Blues (Townes VanZandt) the only cover on a 12 song collection of songs I would file under Bluegrass/Americana. Nice harmonies with Stuart, bassist Mason Tuttle and banjo player Janet Beazley with fine guitar/banjo work by Ivan Rosenberg. Favorite songs include the banjo driven The Jealous Crow, Dollar Bill Blues, the countrified Time Was, and the upbeat, Take Me into Your Heart The presentation of CS&B CDs is always a treat, with beautiful artwork and packaging. Potsy says check it out.

Chris's site. Order from CD Baby. Released Oct. '04, reviewed by Kay Clements.

MARK STUART
Songs From A Corner Stage... (Gearle)
Stuart is Stacey Earle's husband and tours and records with her adding harmony vocals and brilliant guitar fills.  While his voice may not be as pretty as his wife's, his singing and writing have plenty of passion and conviction.  Like Earle's album which required a few listens, I'm realizing that Songs from  a Corner Stage is slowly growing on me too.  It has some acoustic songs, some blues and even some Al Green style soul though some of those songs are not his best.  There's no denying Stuart has talent and he's obviously having fun with his first solo album.  By the next release, I've no doubt Mark will settle into what feels comfortable to him and what sounds best.
Stacey's site has CD ordering info. Released Nov. '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

MARTY STUART
The Pilgrim....(MCA Nashville)
Despite his ass-shaking reputation, Marty Stuart has been around since his days with Lester Flatt's band as a young teenager.  He also has a deep respect for the traditions of Country music and a damn fine voice too.   Now he has taken a bit of a gamble with an excellent concept album, loosely-based on a true story he remembers hearing as a child.   The Pilgrim is a song-cycle about a man who can't get over the love of a woman.  The story deals with love, suicide, loneliness, and ultimately, redemption.  Marty enlisted many respected Country music friends, but this is his show all the way, handling the production and most of the songwriting.  Of special note are the contributions of Ralph Stanley and Heartbreaker Mike Campbell on guitar.  This is an ambitious and brave effort for Stuart, and I think he pulls it off.  For the Nashville establishment, there are still some potential hits here, but thankfully, they don't take away from the story.
Best tracks: Sometimes The Pleasure's Worth The Pain, Harlan County, Reasons, Goin' Nowhere Fast, The Observations Of A Crow, Draggin' Around These Chains Of Love. MCA Nashville has a site, and Marty's fan club.  Released June, '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

MARTY STUART AND HIS FABULOUS SUPERLATIVES
Souls' Chapel… (Superlatone/Universal South)
Marty Stuart has crafted a brilliant set of traditional and original gospel and spiritual songs that is highly entertaining. This is not country gospel but rather soul and blues-based gospel. Its like Stuart has gone back to his Mississippi heritage and unearthed some holy spirits. He owes more than a little debt to the great early albums by the Staple Singers. Marty even has “Pops” Staples' own spooky-sounding Telecaster for most of the songs. Then you got Mavis Staples lending her incredible pipes to “Move Along Train” and you're there, in the Promised Land. His “Fabulous” band must be praised also, from the tasty guitar of Kenny Vaughan to the fine tenor vocals of “Handsome” Harry Stinson. It ain't preachy, I promise. It's just fine and timeless music. And believe me, you're gonna be saved by this CD even if the “G” word pushes your buttons.
Marty's site. Universal South. Buy from amazon. Released Aug. 2005. Reviewed by Bill Frater

MARTY STUART
Ghost Train (The Studio B Sessions)... (Sugar Hill)
Marty Stuart is a true Renaissance guy, from his ollection of Country music memorabilia to his beautiful photography books to his solid catalog of music.  This new CD was recorded at the fabled RCA Studios were so many famous recordings were made way back when they still used tape. It is solid "real" Country music, even going so far as to include a recitation during the tribute song "Porter Wagoner's Grave".  Marty's band, the Fabulous Superlatives, are about as good as a band can get and they've been together for awhile now and only get tighter sounding. Guitarist Kenny Vaughan and Marty frequently play these amazing tandem solos, souring high above the rhythm section. There is steel guitar all over this album, including the great Ralph Mooney, now in his 80's who gets his own instrumental vrersion of "Crazy Arms" And maybe that's what makes Marty so special, he goes out of his way to honor his influences and the artists who have walked before him. I've also got to mention his wife, the lovely Connie Smith, who joins him on a few songs. The Title "Ghost Train" comes from a dream Stuart had while visiting an old train station in Mississippi. He recounts it beautifully moving story on the CD booklet. That story is reason enough to buy the CD and not some silly download, or better yet, buy the LP. Marty Stuart continues to remind us that tradition and history are essential. 
Marty's site. Buy from amazon. Released Aug. 2010. Reviewed by Bill Frater

MARTY STUART AND HIS FABULOUS SUPERLATIVES
Nashville 1: Tear the Woodpile Down (Sugar Hill)
Let There Be Country was the name of a 1992 release from Marty Stuart. Foreshadowing? A career that dates back to 1972 where as a 14-year-old he hopped a bus to Nashville from his Philadelphia, Mississippi home to join the band of legendary bluegrasser Lester Flatt, it was just the first milestone in a career filled with walks with greatness for Stuart. By the early 1990s, Stuart was a regular on the country charts with his patented “hillbilly rock” which infused a R&R fervor into music rooted in real-deal C&W. While he fell out of favor on the commercial side of country during the last decade, Stuart has never let it affect his artistry. Recent years have seen him re-dedicate his career to the preservation of authentic country music. With the release of Tear the Woodpile Down, he begins a project that will hopefully span multiple volumes with the aim to take back country music. In other words, let there be country. The 10-song collection features his razor-sharp band of musical missionaries, The Fabulous Superlatives, which include guitar slinger Kenny Vaughan, drummer and singer Harry Stinson, and Paul Martin on bass. Comprised mostly of Stuart originals (covers include “Holding On To Nothing” which Porter Wagoner & Dolly Parton charted in 1968 and Hank Williams’ “Picture from Life’s Other Side”), it’s an album of tunes knee deep in the honky tonk matters of loneliness, heartbreak, and bad times all fortified by plenty of twangy Telecaster licks, swirling pedal steel, and harmony singing. Stuart and company deliver it straight-up on Tear the Woodpile Down in the process providing a lesson on how authentic country music is supposed to sound.

Marty's site. Buy from amazon  Released Apr. 2012. Reviewed by Dan Ferguson.

SUGARFOOT
Take A Picture... (Karmadillo)
For a band that has broken up and regrouped, they've got it down.  Melodic roots rock with verve and passion is what is served up here, tight yet loose.  They hail from Milwaukee along with the Bodeans who have no doubt been an influence. I'm also hearing some early Poco, Buffalo Springfield and even some Marshall Crenshaw style power pop.  They twang, they rock and they write great songs.  I believe that about covers it.
Order directly from the band's site, Sugarfoot.net, where they also have bio and tour info.... or get it from Miles of Music. Reviewed by Bill Frater

TRENT SUMMAR and The New Row Mob
Horseshoes & Hand Grenades… (Palo Duro)

Trent Summar has been kickin' around Nashville for a while now. Known for his high energy shows, I've associated his music with that of Jason & the Scorchers and The Drive By Truckers: punk country. On Horseshoes & Hand Grenades the production has a rockin' edge, but the songs are mostly straight-ahead, hook-filled Nashville Country, like that heard on any AM station. His voice reminds me of Jimmy Buffett or, dare I say, Tracy Lawrence. A few tracks didn't wow me: “Pink John Deere,” a song about a girl who drives a tractor, is about as stupid a song as they come. There are, however, a few good songs, when he comes down to earth, but much of the album sounds like he's trying to write a country hit. I can't fault a guy for wanting to pay the rent, but I was hoping for something better.

His website… Buy from amazon. Released Oct. '06, reviewed by Bill Frater. Edited by Rosie Frater.

THE SUNDOGS
Dancing Room Only...(Parhelion)
The Sundogs are a Northern California band that keeps a busy schedule spreading their Swamp Beat Boogie around the West Coast and beyond.  On their fourth CD, they have taken their basic Cajun-Rock sound and added some nice slow blues . This band proves once again that you don't have to be from Louisiana to play great Cajun-Zydeco dance music.

Released in late '98. Order directly from their website, Sundogs.com. Reviewed by Bill Frater


THE SUNDOWNERS
Chicago Country Legends… (Bloodshot Revival)
The Sundowners were somewhat of a Chicago country music institution, they played at a handful of downtown honky tonks for over 30 years, form ’59 to ‘89. They were the kind of band that would tackle any song, (there’s a Beatles tune on this collection), in addition to many country standards. I guess you could compare them to the Sons of the Pioneers, three part harmonies and all, with some good lead guitar work. The songs were all recorded live, some amazingly from as far back as 1960. So the recording is a little rough and there is some classic background "bar sounds" included. Bloodshot did their usual great job of packaging the CD with some classic promo 8 X 10’s. Although I probably won’t listen to the CD much, I sure wish I had a chance to see The Sundowners during their prime.
Bloodshot's site. Buy from amazon. Released Nov, 2003. Reviewed by Bill Frater

SUNSHONE STILL
Dead Letters... (Catfish)

Chris Smith could be called a latter-day Townes Van Zandt, without that beaten-down, running on fumes aura. Dead Letters is an objective collection of a dozen songs that explore the obverse side of life, love, and the road, without wallowing in the self-pity that can infect an imprudent writer. Nobody likes to listen to a whiner, but everyone can empathize with someone who has come up a day late and a dollar short; it's pretty familiar territory. Taking the hits and retaining one's optimism, as in “Saturday's in the Sky”, is an endearing and all too rare quality in our society of ‘victims'. Three years in the making, Smith has poured his heart into this one, without making a sanguinary mess. Skip the Kleenex here, just sit back and commiserate- Yup, I've hoed in that particular row before.

The Sunshone Still site. Order from CD Baby. Released July, 2005, reviewed by Don Grant.

OH SUSANNA
Johnstown....(Stella/Square Dog)
Oh Susanna is Canadian singer-songwriter Suzie Ungerleider.  She plays guitar and wrote all the songs which are quite poetic and sometimes tragic  songs of love and such related subjects.  The music is basically folk-rock with a hint of blues, nice playing but don't look for much twang here.   Her voice is strong and passionate,  she might be headed for larger audiences and bigger record labels. 
Favorite songs: Johnstown, Alabaster, The Bridge, Back Dirt Road, Home Soon.The Oh Susanna website is very nice and includes ordering and tour info. Miles of Music has it too. Released March '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

BRYAN SUTTON
Ready To Go... (Sugar Hill)
There's a lineage of great guitar flatpickers that includes Doc Watson, Clarence White, Tony Rice, Dan Crary and now this young'un, Bryan Sutton.  He came to light with Ricky Skaggs's band a few years ago and gained further notoriety after replacing Tony Rice in the touring version of the all-star Bluegrass Sessions band with Bela Fleck, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas and others.  Take my word for it, the guy is damn hot but what's more he has taste and his pickin' is a clean and as clear as mercury.  The mostly instrumental album features it's share of bluegrass scorchers but he throws in some blues, ballads and a gorgeous version of a Django Reinhardt tune. It's an enjoyable CD, and if you're a guitar nut, the bar has once again, been raised.
Released Feb. '00, reviewed by Bill Frater

BRYAN SUTTON
Bluegrass Guitar... (Sugar Hill)
Bursting on the scene in 1997 as part of Ricky Skaggs band, Kentucky Thunder, Sutton has been making quite a name for himself ever since. He is among that new breed of acoustic guitar player (think: Kenny Smith, David Grier, & Jim Hurst) who can play bluegrass exceedingly well but can do oh so much more. His first solo record revealed a master of many styles and musics. On this new record he confines himself to flatpicking guitar style & bluegrass/old-time music. An all instrumental affair like this runs the risk of sounding the same after about track number three, not so with Sutton. Whether it’s a bluegrass standard imbued with new life, an obscure fiddle tune transferred to guitar, or an original composition, Sutton is remarkable for his speed, sense of melody, tone, timing and taste. He’s backed by a small bluegrass ensemble, including mandolin ace Tim O’Brien. This is bluegrass guitars very cool leading edge and a “must” for fans of acoustic/flatpicked guitar.
Bryan Sutton's web site. Sugar Hill Records. Buy from amazon. Released May 2003.  Reviewed by Kevin Russell

SWAG
Catch-All... (Yep Roc)
While so-called supergroups of popular rock musicians were legion in the late 60's/early 70's, the only example for modern pop fans has come from the Traveling Wilburys (you know who they are) and Little Village (you SHOULD know who they are). While those two groups managed to make rock stars sound rootsy and fun, a new supergroup has been created that totally blows them away and makes several roots oriented players sound positively Liverpudlian. Yeah, I'm gonna say it! Many CDs come along that make us hyperbole-starved journalists quote the mighty name of the Beatles, but this band of Wilco, Cheap Trick, and Mavericks (plus solo artist Doug Powell) refugees sound like George Martin gathered a few Beatles, some Kinks, a Pacemaker or two and got them to bust out an album! While some roots fans might be angry that there isn't a lick of country twang on here, the scope of this album, the bells and whistles, and all of these lovely, melodic songs make this my favorite album of the year so far and one you should rush out and get as fast as possible!
Check out SwagFanClub.com.    Released March, '01.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood

SUNNY SWEENEY
Heartbreaker's Hall Of Fame… (self released)

Just when the weather's getting colder, a breath of warm Texas air shows up in the form of Sunny Sweeney's debut CD. It takes a Texan to do real country music these days and Heartbreaker's Hall Of Fame honors honky tonk with enough of an edge to even satisfy us liberals. Her sound is traditional and twangy and her band can certainly rock, especially lead guitarist Lars Albrecht and fiddler Bobby Flores. This reminds me of Emmylou's first albums: tasty originals mixed with good covers, and an all-around tight band. Her voice has that lonesome twang to it that just can't be faked, like that of Loretta Lynn, Iris DeMent and even Kasey Chambers. Her own songs stand up to covers of such artists as Jim Lauderdale, Keith Sykes, Audrey Auld and Tim Carroll. The latter's rockin' “If I Could” is a highlight of this solid collection. I can't think of the last time I picked a debut release for my top ten of the year, but this one is just too good to ignore.

Sunny's site. Buy from amazon. Released Oct. '06, reviewed by Bill Frater. Edited by Rosie Frater.

THE SWEETBACK SISTERS
Chicken Ain't Chicken....(Signature Sounds)
I don't usually recommend albums by new artists with no original songs because at some point ya gotta write your own stuff if you're serious about this stuff. There are always exceptions for everything and in this case this band has got the goods party because they are well-chosen tunes. Starting with "I Want To Be A Real Cowboy Girl" and going through Roger Miller's "My Uncle Used To Love Me But She Died" and Buck Owen's beautiful "It Don't Show On Me." They even take on a heritage chestnut like the Carter Family's "The Sweetest Gift" and pull it off. What's distinctive is they honor the music rather than copy it, adding some gritty baritone guitar or Hawaiian steel at the appropriate (and sometimes unlikely) places. No sisters here but their sound centers on the sweet harmonies of Zara Bode and Emily Miller. There's something very special going on here, very fun stuff. They'll have to bring in their own songs eventually but for now they got it going on.
The Sister's site. Order from CD Baby. Released July, 2009, reviewed by Bill Frater.

SWEET WILLIAM
Gone To Seed... (Zendevil)
For fans of mountain music crossed with a tinge of rock, here's Sweet William for ya. And, no, there's no one named William (or Sweet William for that matter) in this four-piece band. There is a guitarist/banjo player named Oscar William, so that may be where the band's interesting moniker originates. Anyway, like I said, this is mountain-based - from the Dick Dale meets Ghost Riders In The Sky opening track ("Cowboys In Coney Island") throughout the whole CD. The catch is the band calls New York City home, although you wouldn't know it from the downhome sound of this disc. The harmonies are incredible, with all bandmembers taking lead and/or background vocal turns at one point or another. If the resultant fallout from all of the O'Brother hoo-hah is music this strong, then this whole mountain/bluegrass resurgence has been worth it. Great stuff.
Reviewed by Scott Homewood.  

THE SWINDLES
Songs In The Key Of T... (self released)
Well, the "T" in the title must stand for Texas, because the band's CD is dedicated to trying to uphold the roadhouse rock tradition of that state. In doing so, the band has modeled itself after another great band who tried to reinvent the roadhouse tradition: Jason and the Scorchers. While no band can quite live up to the Scorchers example, the Swindles try hard. The band has filled it's CD with tons of covers, covers that look "good" on paper and are sure to excite a live audience when done right. For example: The Fats Domino hit "I'm Ready," Doug Sahm stuff like "She's About A Mover" and "Ain't That Loving You Baby" by Ivory Joe Hunter. Classic stuff but not hokey, not like Led Zep covers or something like that. These are songs that are road tested and ready to be turned into barn-burners under the right circumstances. The CD as a whole has a great live feel to it, and the Swindles have a powerful, raucous sound fans of twang-rock will love. If the Scorchers make you drool, check out The Swindles. You won't be sorry.
You can order the CD directly from TheSwindles.com Reviewed by Scott Homewood  

THE SWIFTYS
The Swiftys... (self released)
This is the debut CD from this Edmonton band, independently released on their own label. If you like your alt-country more on the traditional side this is the one for you. They combine the Sun era Johnny Cash with the outlaw spirit of Waylon Jennings for a roots rockin' rockabilly inspired twangfest. Throw in the odd fiddle, dobro and hammond organ and you got a wicked brew. They hoist up the rockabilly banner and let it fly.
The Swifty's website will have online ordering soon. Reviewed by Keith Robb.

SWINGING STEAKS
Kicksnarehat... (Thrust) 
What happens when an energetic bar band tries to tie itself in with the Americana movement? Actually, this band isn't that bad at all. At times sounding like straight ahead Southern rock and other times sounding like the folky pop of The Wallflowers, this band takes its Midwestern-sounding rock (and they're from Boston, Mass. of all places - go figure!) and tries for the big time. Their songs are pretty catchy, although I must say that the music is not very distinguishable, just very energetic, competent bar rock. One thing they do well on this CD is a blistering cover of Bob Seger's "Get Out Of Denver" that thankfully sounds more like the Dave Edmunds version than Seger's own.
Their website has CD ordering, gigs, bios & song samples. Reviewed by Scott Homewood

CARY SWINNEY
Martha... (Johnson Grass)
Cary is one of those rare singer-songwriters who has no obvious influences and seems to have cut a unique path.  Each song takes a different twist, with either it's chord changes or its subject matter.  He's from Lubbock, Texas and his voice is reminiscent of a young Jerry Jeff Walker.  His songs are rambling discourses on life and frequently religion with its fallacies and contradictions.  His style is bare bones, Cary and his guitar with pedal steel or fiddle here and there.  It's honest, cryptic and sort of haunting...similar to Richard Buckner or even Tom Waits.  Think unique... think quirky... think about buying it. 
He has his own site... CarySwinney.com.  Released April, 2000, reviewed by Bill Frater.

JEN SYGIT
Leaving Marshall Street... (Earthworks)

Even for a bluegrass/folk album that emphasizes the blues, this one seems a bit on the melancholic side. The liner notes explain it: 'These blue-hearted songs were written in a one bed-room walk-up apartment… out the bedroom window lay Marshall St., then home to Lansing's Marshall St. Armory, where for endless weeks busloads of young men were being shipped overseas to fight in a war declared over years before...' Yeah, that would certainly do it here too. Sygit wrote eight of the ten songs herself, co-wrote “Pay For What You Get”, and throws in Steve Goodman's “ The Ballad of Penny Evans”, a nice choice indeed. One of the best tunes is the instrumental “Once”, featuring some pleasing counterpoints between her banjo, Dominic Suchyta's guitar and Derek Smith's fiddle. Now that's a bluegrass tune. An accomplished vocalist/guitarist/banjo/ukulele player, this is Sygit's second release, preceded by Here To There in 2003. A bit melancholic? Yes, but melancholy seldom sounds this good; you almost forget that you're supposed to be down.

Jen's site. Order from CD Baby or from amazon. Released Oct. '06, reviewed by Don Grant.

Look for the debut album, due out April 19th - Click the album cover to see a larger version.JESSE SYKES & THE SWEET HEREAFTER
Reckless Burning... (BurnBurnBurn)
If you've ever thought that Margo Timmins from the Cowboy Junkies had too much enthusiasm, then this CD is for you. Filled with ethereal dream-songs, this is the music for the time you want to play Russian roulette, you know, put the gun to your head and pull the trigger. Or just bliss out. You makes your choices and I'll makes mine. Either way, this deep emotional music is not for the faint of heart and will NOT have you dancing around the room. That having been said, it's a lovely album and features former Whiskeytown member Phil Wandscher in a main collaborative role. Lullabies for the lost, indeed.
JesseSykes.com and BurnBurnBurn.com.  Order from Miles Of Music.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

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