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All About Town...(E-Squared)
The V-roys have grown up alot since their first album. The band has sharpened it's songwriting skills while getting much more musically adventurous in their song arrangements. There are some  60's-sounding pop here mixed in with some bluegrass and even some R&B-inspired tunes. All this makes for kind of a schizophrenic listening experience at first but it's worth the wait  for those with patience and an open mind. The Knoxville quartet has the double threat of Scott Miller and Mike Harrison, both guitarists and songwriters who sing lead and harmonize well together.  I get the feeling these guys just brought a bunch of solid songs to the studio and said "let's fool around and have some fun and see what happens". Having the freedom to have fun makes for a fun and enjoyable album.

Best songs: Mary, Amy 88, Miss Operator, Sorry Sue, Fade Away. E-Squared has a pretty cool website, as do the V-roys.  Released Oct. '98.  Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Are You Through Yet?... (self-released)
The V-Roys released this CD just before they broke up and after hearing their live show, I  mourn their absence. Their live attack, featuring  2 guitars, bass and drums, is raucous and ragged but  just right.  They play with  the power and intuitive grace befitting a band that has played together for 6 years.  They mix their catalog with a few well chosen covers by Neil Young, The Replacements and Bap Kennedy. This is a fitting swan song from a great band who, for whatever reason, broke up before the rest of the world discovered them.
They have their own site,, which is still active with ordering info, lyrics and a chat group. Order the CD from Miles of Music.

Laid Down Train... (
For a true testimony about how money, dance steps, a manufactured personality, and endless studio time mean practically nothing to good music (Hello Britney! How's it going, Garth?) when you put every ounce of your soul and your heart into it, try this wonderful CD. While it's a lo-fi one-man-band affair with Pavlo Vacatatsis handling everything from drums to pedal steel, even the top execs of Enron don't have enough money to buy this much passion! Musically, it's a mix of country soul ala Arthur Alexander and George Jones (or modern-day Nick Lowe) and 60's mainstream country while lyrically, it's as stark, depressing and immediate as Hank Williams' material. Though Vacatatsis tries to clue the listener in to the genesis of the songs on this CD via a rambling "letter to the consumer", music fans will know these songs really originate from the intersection of heartbreak and pain. Sure, tons of money and a hotshot producer could gussy up this album but it wouldn't have half of its' power and tormented genius that it does now. For a lo-fi look at a latter-day up and comer, you need to get this record. It IS that good.
Songs On Line  Go to CD Baby to order.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood

Every Now And Then… (Dig)

Sal Valentino goes all the way back to 1964 and San Francisco's The Beau Brummels. They were a well respected early Beatles-inspired, pre-psychedelic band that had a couple of AM radio hits. Sal had the distinctive lead voice and he still sounds good. On this CD he reprises their classic “Laugh, Laugh”, done acoustically and slowed down quite a bit. Valentino There are a few other good songs but some are just too sappy. The truth is, this is one of those albums that you want to love but it doesn't really meet your expectations. Oh well, ya gotta give Sal credit for still putting it out there after 44 years in the business.

Sal's page on Dig's site. Sal's MySpace. Order from Amazon. Released Feb. 2008, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Various Artists
Anchored In Love: A Tribute To June Carter Cash
... (Dualtone)

Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that there seems to be a plethora of tribute releases of late? Some are warranted, and then there are some that are, to be kind, questionable. Thankfully this tribute to the work of June Carter Cash, both with Johnny, and the Carter Family, falls squarely in the first category. Unless one is newly arrived from an extraterrestrial origin it is impossible to have missed the impact and influence that this lady had upon the music scene through her performances and her personal life. The disc starts off very nicely with an “If I Were a Carpenter” duet with Sheryl Crow and the Country King of Duets, Willie Nelson and Carlene Carter and Ronnie Dunn rip it up next with “Jackson”. All told there are four duets and eight individual homages herein, and the whole package hangs together well. Of particular note are the contributions of Loretta Lynn, Rosanne Cash, and Emmylou Harris' closer, “Song to John”. Yes, this one is warranted and faithfully executed; let's just stay away from, say, a Billy Ray Cyrus or a Millie Vanilli tribute.

Dualtone's site. Buy from amazon. Released June '07, reviewed by Don Grant.

Various Artists
Badlands: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska... (Sub Pop)
Since it seems they've run out of artists to honor, the latest trend in tribute CD's is to do a tribute to an individual classic album. Such is the case with Badlands, a tribute to Bruce Springsteen's 1981 that was recorded in his bedroom on a four-track tape machine as a demo for his band. The dark, visual and evocative songs stood on their own and it stands as probably Bruce's greatest work. Wisely, the album features almost all Americana and roots artists and they were asked to record their songs with a minimum of studio overdubs, like the original. And it works, the whole CD stands up quite well with very few low spots. The highlights for me are Son Volt, Los Lobos, Ben Harper, Johnny Cash, Raul Malo, Dar Williams and especially Hank Williams III. It would be fitting that some of these great acts gain some new fans as a result of wanting to hear Springsteen songs.
Released November, 2000, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Various Artists
Behind Closed Doors: Where Country Meets Soul ... (Kent)
Perhaps no style of songwriting lends itself better to the soul touch than a country song and particular, the ballads. Proof positive is the new compilation from British import label Kent Records titled Behind Closed Doors: Where Country Meets Soul. The country genre has always been worth its weight in gold when it comes to song interpretation by black artists of the soul, blues and R&B variety. Witness Lionel Ritchie who “went country” early this year to rave reviews. Behind Closed Doors offers up 23 slabs of country given the deep soul treatment. The collection culls recordings from the 1960s through the ‘90s. The singers demonstrating their interpretative powers are many of the heavy hitters of soul including Solomon Burke, Percy Sledge, Al Green, James Carr, Arthur Alexander, Joe Simon, Joe Tex, and Candi Staton. The songs are most all country classics spanning Aaron Neville covering George Jones’ “The Grand Tour” which leads off the set to Cookie Jackson’s wonderful reworking of Tammy Wynette’s “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” to Little Milton taking Charlie Rich’s “Behind Closed Doors” to another level. On this collection, the songs burn a little more intensely and the conviction runs a little and it doesn’t take long to get caught up in its web.
Visit Ace's web site. Buy from amazon. Released July,'12. Reviewed by Dan Ferguson.

Various Artists
The Big "D" Jamboree- Live, Vols. 1 & 2... (Dragon Street) 
The Big "D" was Dallas' version of the Grand Ol' Opry and these songs were taken from vinyl transcriptions from shows in the late 50's. The 2
CD set titled "Hillbillies" features Johnny Cash, Hank Locklin, Wanda Jackson, Ferlin Husky and many more. What the Opry never had was the artists on the 2nd CD of this set, "Rockabillies" spotlighting Carl Perkins, Warren Smith, Gene Vincent and other lesser known but equally dynamic performers. They did an excellent job packaging the CDs with extensive liner notes and history of the Big "D". Almost worth the price alone are the wonderful photos  which include shots of Hank Williams, Charline Arthur, Roy Clark rockin' with Wanda and more. Although the sound quality may not be  what you're used to, this is a great snapshot of musical history from a classic period when the line between Country and Rockabilly was negligible.
Released Jan. 2000, reviewed by Bill Frater.  Order it from Village Records.

Various Artists
Cold Mountain Movie Soundtrack … (DMZ/Columbia)
Music industry types are wondering whether producer T Bone Burnett can repeat the "left field" success of the "Oh Brother" soundtrack. My guess is no, and not really because of the music or because the base movie is not as fun. The mass music-buying public is just too fickle to go for this soundtrack which is much more "old-timey" than "O Brother". There are a few to many plaintive stripped-down traditional ballads. The most interesting addition is five songs from Jack Black, who is from the minimalist (and surprisingly popular) Whit Stripes. Black does fine in this setting, although his best song , (Never Far Away"), wasn't even in the movie. If I were the producer, I'd include 1 less tune from Jack and 1 or 2 more from the wonderful Reeltime Travelers. In fact, I would recommend their fine 2002 CD to those curious about this kind of Appalachian-inflected folk music before this one.
Buy from amazon Released Dec. '03, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Various Artists
Concerts For A Landmine Free World... (Vanguard)
This is a live acoustic compilation culled from a series of concerts held to benefit the Landmine Free World Fund. It's been a pet cause of Emmylou Harris' and my guess is it was her passion for the cause and friendship with the artists that enabled then to have such a stellar group of singer-songwriters. Featured are John Prine, Nanci Griffith, Gillian Welch, Guy Clark, Steve Earle and others. The concerts were done acoustic with the artist taking turns performing songs. Occasionally the other artists add some guitar or vocal harmonies. It's a great cause and proceeds from the sale will benefit the Campaign, My only gripe is there are no new songs included here and it makes it for a less interesting album.
Vanguard Records  Released March, 2001, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Various Artists
Down To The Promised Land: Five Years of Bloodshot Records... (Bloodshot)
The little Insurgent Country/Honky-Schronk label from Chicago has outdone themselves this time by putting out 40, count 'em 40, brand new unreleased songs on their 2 disc, 5-year anniversary compilation.  This ambitious project includes their entire talented and motley stable of artists and more.  They have also included some of the finest of non-Bloodshot Alt.Country people including Mike Ireland, Giant Sand, Supersuckers, both members of Whiskeytown, (recording separately) and even Graham Parker with the Waco's!  Bloodshot has amazingly released over 70 CD in 5 years, some better then others, but all of them unabashedly honoring Country with good ol' Punk attitude.  A truly great release with beautiful packaging and pictures for a cheap price.  Congrats Bloodshot!  I can't imagine what they'll come up with for their 10 year anniversary.
Of course, Bloodshot has a website.  Released June, 2000, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Various Artists
Dressed In Black: The Songs Of Johnny Cash... (Dualtone)
Several tributes to The Man In Black have come out this year, for various reasons. Some are obviously geared toward a true appreciation of the man and his art while some are just trying to cash (pun intended) in on the recent release of his own new CD and the sympathy shot, knowing that he is in poor health. I truly believe, from the artists involved and the total package put together for this tribute, that this tribute was done for the right reasons. While several major names are involved in this fine collection (Rodney Crowell being one, doing a fine version of Ballad Of A Teenage Queen), most of the disc is handed to artists who, although less well-known, have the most in common with Cash's spirit and style. ‘50's-style loner James Intveld, for example, is probably best known for his Chris Isaak-style crooning but does an almost eerie job of re-creating Cash's voice on the classic Folsom Prison Blues. Reverend Horton Heat, another off-center choice, is mostly known for his revved-up psychobilly workouts and does his usual fiery job with his cut, Get Rhythm, adding a totally punk-rock flavor to the song. While purchasing the originals by Cash would definitely be my first suggestion in a case like this, any fan of country music and Cash in particular would be happy with this CD. Great stuff.
 Dualtone's site. Buy from amazon  Released Sept. 2002. Reviewed by Scott Homewood.  

Various Artists
Face a Frowning World: An E.C. Ball Memorial Album... (Tompkins Square)
He made his living driving a school bus and running a service station, but it was as traditional country artist that Estil "E.C." Ball is renowned. Picking guitar and singing, Ball and wife Orna hosted a radio program near their Southwest Virginia home where they'd tell stories and sing gospel, country and the occasional comic song. Face a Frowning World is a winning leftfield tribute to the wonderment of Ball. It features a wide array of artists from The Handsome Family to Michael Hurley to Jolie Holland to Jon Langford with the material ranging from stark reinterpretations to amped-up ones.

Visit Buy from amazon. Released Dec. '09. Reviewed by Dan Ferguson.

Various Artists
Frisco Mabel Joy Revisited: For Mickey Newbury... (Appleseed)
This is a tribute to a 1971 song-cycle album by the under-appreciated Mickey Newbury. Back in those turbulent times, he was revered as a songwriter's songwriter and since then, he has put out albums sporadically. The songs on Frisco Mabel Joy are and were simple, spare and slow-paced acoustic gems. Interestingly, many of the artists who pay tribute to the obscure Newbury are equally obscure yet gifted. Singers who live for their craft rather then for the money or fame. People like Bob Neuwirth, Mark Olson, David Halley and even Kris Kristofferson. Dave Alvin is probably the best known Americana artist on this tribute but don't let the lack of names keep you from settling in with this CD. Instrumental interludes by the always interesting "jazz" guitarist Bill Frizell help to hold it together and remind you that this is more than a collection of songs. With the nights getting longer and colder, this, like the original Newbury album, would be a great fireplace companion.
Released October, 2000, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Various Artists
Full Tank Vol. 1...(Jackass)
Now that almost every city has an Alt.Country band or two, how do we sort out the good ones from others. One idea is to do like Pat Kennedy of Santa Barbara, CA's Jackass Records did.  He took the time to seek out some of the best unsigned Americana artists from around the country.  He's put together a  fine and varied collection of  engaging songs. Some twang, some hillbilly-folk some punk-country and some rockabilly, along with the usual rootsy country stuff. Most of the artists share a healthy sense of humor and good, well recorded tunes. Bloodshot Records got started this way by recording talented unknown regional twang bands. Jackass is already soliciting artists for a second  volume of Full Tank.
Best songs (and artists):  Trouble-(Creosote), King of the Minimum Wage- (Mulehead), Always Country- (Foggy Mountain Fuckers), Gunstore Liquorstore Project- (Wilson Gi & the Willful Sinners), Redneck Riot- (The Countrypolitans), River Red- (Steve Pride),  Scarlet Red- (D.Braxton Harris),  That's Why I'm Unhappy- (Slim Cessna's Auto Club), plus more! Order directly from Jackass Records Released Late '98, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Various Artists Soundtrack
The Gift... (Will/Lakeshore)
This is a good mix of old and new country songs, heavy on the haunting melodies. There's some lesser known songs by classic artists like Waylon Jennings, Loretta Lynn and George Jones and Willie Nelson does a new song ("The Great Divide"). Both Neko Case and The Souvenirs contribute two songs, one good new one from each of em. It's a quite enjoyable listen all the way through, but the standout cut is by Willie's daughter, Amy Nelson, (who also wrote it), called "In Case We Die". The movie has been getting mixed reviews but the Soundtrack CD is worth looking for for the new songs alone but the older ones are great too.
Release date: Jan. '01. Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Various Artists
Hands Across The Water... (Compass)
This began as a phone conversation the day after the tsunami. John Cutliffe and Andrea Zonn had an idea. A year later, it's reality, as moving and purposeful a record as you'll find, a benefit for the orphaned children of that devastating wave. Each of the 16 tracks features a trans-Atlantic collaboration. The list of artists is a feast. Crowell, Prine, Jackson Browne, Jim Lauderdale, Alison Brown, Jerry Douglas, Mindy Smith, Altan, Paul Brady, The Duhks, Lunasa, Sharon Shannon…and on and on. The opening cut, "This Beggar's Heart", by Darrell Scott and company, is as good as it gets, and it's just the beginning. The songs flow together, console, raise a fine emotion. Aside from its outstanding purpose, HATW is an album of durable beauty. I tend to shy away a little from ‘various artists' CDs, as they tend to lack a center that holds; this one is exceptional. Cutliffe and Zonn have invited a humanity, and boy, do we ever sound good when we play together. All proceeds go to aid those who've lost more than we will ever comprehend. One for everybody here.

The project's web site. Buy from amazon. Released Dec. '05, reviewed by Doug Lang.

Various Artists
Hit the Hay Vol. 5... (Sound Asleep)
I gotta confess, that, as a writer, I find compilations harder to review than any other type of release. The variety of artists, songs and, often, producers, doesn't often allow for a very cohesive package, allowing for what often ends up being a simple, ramshackle sampler album. The very cool Hit The Hay comps, put together by Sweden's Jerker Emanuelson, are a very different thing altogether. Not only is the artist list substantial (over 46 different acts and groups) the styles of music represented include everything from skronky bar band rock to the finest to the most bombastic power pop. The only thing all artists share is their utter coolness! While I can't possibly review every song, I will let you in on a few of the more well known participants. Map of Wyoming, Peter Case, Beaver Nelson, Don Dixon, The Hangdogs, Laura Cantrell, Todd Thibaud and Jeff Finlin are among those that take part and that's only the first CD of this phenomenal two-CD set! Anyone into the hippest, coolest underground music  will drool over this CD. You just gotta get it!!!
Check Sound Asleep for track listing. Order the CD from Miles Of Music.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

Various Artists
Introducing Townes Van Zandt Via the Great Unknown... (101 Distribution)
Hmmm… I wonder who this guy is? Unless one has been living these last decades past in a cardboard box, the legendary Van Zandt doesn’t need an introduction, making this release a tad on the superfluous side. Being an import from the U.K., (at $31.98 a pricey one indeed), it is possible that there are listeners over that way who might require an introduction. All that aside, the disc does contain some interesting renditions of the iconic artist’s both greater and lesser known work by musicians both lesser and less lesser known. Stephen Duffy and The Lilac Time from the latter category present a good version of “Pancho and Lefty”, a song admittedly hard to muck up, it’s just that great, while Vancouver’s The Be Good Tanyas’ vision of “Waitin’ Around To Die”, with T. Niles’ eloquent banjo line, is eerie and chilling. Do we need yet another Van Zandt tribute? The jury is still out on that one, but the uninitiated won’t go wrong with this introduction, while the converts are better advised to buy their selected MP3s individually.

The Townes VanZandt Porject MySpace page. Buy from amazon. Released Oct, '09, reviewed by Don Grant.

Various Artists
Keep Your Soul: A Tribute to Doug Sahm... (Vanguard)
I'm very grateful to have spent a half hour privately with Doug Sahm, watching his beloved Houston Astros lose their playoff game. He talked non-stop to me like we'd been friends for years. He died a few months later. He was a musical legend and a genuine character. From the classic Sir Douglas Quintet hits in the post-Beatles era to to long in illustrious ventures into Texas blues, country, Tex-Mex and so much more. What defined him was his amazing voice. I didn't realize how great a singer he was until I heard this CD. This is an admirable tribute collection featuring many of his contemporaries like Alejandro Escovedo, Dave Alvin, Delbert McClinton, Jimmie Vaughan, The Gourds, and even Doug's son, Shawn. Sadly all of these songs bring to light one fact. None of these guys can touch Doug's strong and howling soulful voice. My mind naturally compares these versions to the originals and unfortunately, only a few really stand up on their own.
Buy from amazon Released March, '09. Reviewed by Bill Frater

Various Artists
Let Us in Americana: The Music of Paul McCartney
... (Reviver)
At last year's Americana Music Conference in Nashville, I attended a panel discussion about fund-raising CD projects and first learned about the album "Let Us In Country" - an album containing an "A list" of country artists covering the songs of Paul McCartney to raise funds to promote awareness of Breat Cancer issues. It had the full support of Sir Paul. The reason the panel was held at the Americana Conference was because the next project was to be this CD - "Let Us In Americana" - which has just been released. Like the Country album, this one has a "A list" of Americana artists with a foot in the "country" waters with Sam Bush performing "I've Just Seen A Face" and Lee Ann Womack doing superb arrangement of "Let `Em In" with both banjo and accordion in the instrumental break mix. 17 songs fill the CD with tracks by Steve Earle (with his wife, Allison Morrer, joining him here; she joind the McCrary Sisters and Amy Helm later in the album on "Let It Be"), Bruce Cockburn, Ollabelle, Teddy Thompson, and the two "Kings of Americana" Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller (on separate songs). There are no song notes on the tri-fold digipak but the musician credits for each song (they are all different) are squished onto one panel in tiny typeface, so you'll need to keep a magnifying glass handy to follow along. The CD is for a good cause so I'm not deducting any stars here. I'm just saying..........
Buy from amazon. Released June, '13, reviewed by Steve Ramm.

Various Artists
Lonesome, On’ry and Mean: A Tribute To Waylon Jennings… (Dualtone)
Yeah, I know, another tribute album, ho hum… but wait, this is one of the most solid collections that has come out in the recent years. Of course, it helps to have an artist who had a great collection of songs to cover, Waylon was a true original and was a stubbornly independent. Every track is done in Waylons’s spirit without copying his unique style. The over-exposed, (yet talented) Norah Jones hinted at a country interest on her solo album, but here she nails an obscure Bob McDill tune, "Wurlitzer Prize", and makes it her own. Equally excellent is John Doe’s version of "Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line", makes me long for a straight country album from Doe. The artist line-up is first-class and equally independent all the way through and the highlight are literally too numerous to mention. Every song is great, not over-produced, and not a dog in the bunch. Hats off to the producers and Dualtone for putting together a great tribute collection.
Dualtone's site.  Buy from amazon Released April, 2003. Reviewed by Bill Frater

Various Artists
Louisiana Hayride (7 CD's)... (Music Mill)
The Louisiana Hayride was a weekly radio show broadcast out of Shreveport, similar to Nashville's Grand Ol' Opry. They've compiled 8 separate CD's grouped together by style: either Gospel (2 CD's), Comedy (1, and not too funny I might add), or 4 Classic Country.  The Country CDs include all the greats from the 50's and 60's featuring Snow, Foley, Cash, Jones and even one Hank Williams song.  One of my criticisms is they played it safe by usually picking one of the artists' hit singles without including much between-song banter  to give the collection some historic significance.  What's more, each CD is short,  giving you only 10 songs.  Of course, the sound is lousy, old and poorly recorded to begin with, but considering the library the label had access to they could've done a much better job. Disappointing. Go to the web page below for complete CD track listing.
CD track listing, RealAudio song samples and ordering info from Music Mill.  Released March 2000, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Various Artists
Man of Somebody's Dreams: A Tribute to Chris Gaffney... (Yep Roc)
The tragic passing of both his band and soulmate Chris Gaffney of cancer just over a year ago hit Dave Alvin hard, to the point that it provided the impetus for two new releases from the one time Grammy winner. Alvin and Gaffney's friendship went back to the burgeoning Southern California roots rock & roll scene of the early 1980s where Alvin was making waves with The Blasters and Gaffney to a lesser extent with his Cold Hard Facts band. After splitting from The Blasters in 1986, Alvin would move in various directions before forming his Guilty Men band in the 1990s of which Gaffney was a member playing accordion and contributing vocals on occasion. Gaffney would also continue his own career during this time releasing a variety of albums on labels such as Rom, HighTone, and Tres Pescadores. An exceptional songwriter, it was his songs sung in an oh-so-soulful, smoky voice that perked many an ear. Among his contemporaries in the music world, Gaffney's songs were to-die-for. When he teamed up with Dave Gonzales of The Paladins fame early in this decade to form The Hacienda Brothers, Gaffney truly hit his stride as a vocalist with the band's distinctive "Western soul" sound. The cancer diagnosis came out of nowhere and hoping to help raise funds to help offset Gaffney's medical expenses, Alvin set forth to put together a tribute album. Unfortunately, Gaffney's end came before the album got off the ground. Now a year later, Man of Somebody's Dreams: A Tribute to Chris Gaffney is a reality thanks to Alvin. It features a who's who of roots music types from Calexico to Joe Ely, Los Lobos to Alejandro Escovedo, Peter Case to Boz Scaggs, and James McMurtry to John Doe to Robbie Fulks among the participants each doing the honors on one from the Gaffney song bag. If justice is served, such star profile will shine a light on Gaffney's talents as a songwriter such that folks will seek out the genuine article. By the way, proceeds from the compilation benefit the non-profit group Hungry for Music and surviving members of Gaffney's family., Yep Roc's CD site. Buy from amazon Released May, 2009. Reviewed by Dan Ferguson.

Various Artists Soundtrack
O' Brother, Where Art Thou?... (Mercury)
I'm dying to see the Coen brothers' movie that this CD is the soundtrack for but I thought it would be fair to review before seeing the movie. It's an excellent collection that  any fan of bluegrass or old timey music will love. The movie takes place in Mississippi in 1937 and producer T-Bone Burnett went for the authentic music while adding a few new songs in the same style,  still making the music accessible for non-traditional music fans. The core music is that of Ralph Stanley, who's song "Man Of Constant Sorrow", is the central musical theme of the story. Stanley fan Gillian Welch also had a hand in the CD and her thoughtful touch is evident. Other artists include The Cox Family, Allison Krauss, Norman Blake, The Fairfield Four, The Whites and more. Now I can see the movie, which you should do too as well as buy this soundtrack.
Check out the album's official siteBuy from amazon Released Dec, '00, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Various Artists
Pearls in the Snow: The Songs of Kinky Friedman ...(Kinkajou)
Back in the early '70's, long before he became a best-selling novelist, Kinky Friedman called himself "The Texas Jewboy". His songs were funny and sarcastic and he waved his Jewish heritage proudly while blowing away even the "outlaw" country music fans.  As this CD proves, he wrote some great songs back then, although he was better known for his novelty tunes.   Producer Kacey Jones did an excellent job of gathering together a well-known collection of mostly Texas artists.  Even the Kinkster himself contributes a few songs, and the in-your-face humor is still there. The Texas Jewboy rides again.
Best songs: Ride 'em Jewboy (Willie Nelson), Autograph (Delbert McClinton), Before All Hell Breaks Loose (Asleep At The Wheel),  Rapid City, South Dakota (Dwight Yoakam), Marilyn & Joe (Kinky Friedman), Sold American (Lyle Lovett), Highway Cafe (Tom Waits). Of course, there's, which links to the Pearls in the Snow page, which features WAV samples of all the songs and lyrics. Amazon has the CD. Released Dec. '98, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Various Artists
Poor Little Knitter On The Road... (Bloodshot)
I went back and listened to the original Knitters album that this release is in tribute to and I was surprised how "normal" it sounded.  Of course, the band featured X members John Doe and Exene Cervenka along with Dave Alvin when he was still with The Blasters (and before he started singing).  At the time it came out (1985), it shocked many of X's hard core punk fans because it was goddamned Country music.  It's only fitting that Bloodshot should release a Knitters tribute as they have based their whole roster on the concept of "Insurgent Country", a concept the Knitters originated.  Most of the songs here turn out great, and like most tribute CD's, some copy the originals and some mess around with 'em.  Artists featured include Robbie Fulks, Old 97's, (with John Doe), Trailer Bride, Whiskeytown, The Sadies with Freakwater's Catherine Irwin and even an unreleased Knitters song.  Bloodshot has hit one out of the park with this CD and if you don't have the original, you might enjoy it too.
Bloodshot's site. Released Oct. '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Various Artists
Real: The Tom T. Hall Project ....(Delmore/Sire)
Tom T. Hall does not come to mind when I think of "classic" Nashville songwriters, however, the exceptional group of artists paying him tribute here made me sit up and pay closer attention to his songs. His nickname is "The Storyteller" and  many of his songs are simple little snapshots of small lives or common everyday occurrences. The 17 artists range from Johnny Cash and Ralph Stanley to Freedy Johnston and Ron Sexsmith. Joe Henry's excellent 1993 version of Hall's "I Flew Over Our House Last Night" is cited as the seed that started this whole project, and Henry's contribution, "Homecoming" is kind of the centerpiece of the CD. This is a remarkable collection of songs that holds together very well as an album. I'm gonna start looking for old Tom T. Hall records next time I'm in the used record store. There are no weak songs or performances here.  Perhaps the best way to  get you to buy the album is to list some of the artists who worked on it.

Best songs: That's How I Got To Memphis (Kelly Willis), When Love Is Gone (Richard Buckner), Don't Forget The Coffee Billy Joe (R.B. Morris), I Miss A Lot Of Trains (Iris DeMent), I'm Not Ready Yet (The Mary Janes), I Hope It Rains At My Funeral (Whiskeytown). There is a Tom T. Hall Project website featuring a bio, articles and some lyrics to Hall's best known songs. Released Dec. '98.  Reviewed by Bill Frater.

Various Artists
Reckless Records Garage Sale: 1997- 2003… (Reckless)
Reckless Records is primarily Bill Chambers (father of Kasey Chambers) and Audrey Auld. The two Australians started the label to put out their wonderful collection of traditional country songs called Looking Back to See. Since then Audrey has married an American and is living happily on the coast just north of San Francisco. She handles most of the Reckless business and is starting to tour the States more. First off, don't be misled by the Garage Sale title, this is a great collection of tunes, not leftovers like some labels do. Almost all the tracks feature Audrey's gorgeous voice, sometimes solo or with Bill. She sings harmony with Fred Eaglesmith on "Wilder Than Her" too. There are also 3 songs from Bill Chambers and one each from Mary Gauthier and The Yearlings. You'll also find more straight-ahead country here then on her 2 solo releases. Nothing but quality stuff at this garage sale!
Reckless's site has track listing and CD ordering, or you can buy from amazon. Released Nov. '03, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Various Artists
Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons... (Almo Sounds)
I assume you know of Gram Parsons, sorta the godfather of, and still a much-loved and respected icon twenty-six years after his death. If you know his music you're probably familiar with most of the songs covered here.  The catch with tributes is whether or not the new versions enhance the vision of the original songs. Gram's "Cosmic American Music" is so distinctive and his originals are so powerful that you have to wonder why they didn't chose a few less well-known songs to cover. I think both "Sin City" and the title track, while nice enough  don't really add anything new to the originals.  Emmylou Harris, Parson's faint-voiced protégé, is one of the executive producers, and she adds splendid vocals and harmonies to many of the tunes.  I would've liked to have heard some of the R&B side of Gram and maybe a few less ballads so, while I don't want to nit-pick, a double-album would've  been nice... This is a great album, and if you read this website's reviews, then it's essential to your CD collection.
Best tracks: She (Pretenders), Hot Burrito #1 (Mavericks), High fashion Queen (Chris Hillman & Steve Earle), Juanita (Sheryl Crow & Emmylou Harris), One Hundred Years From Now (Wilco),  A Song for You (Whiskeytown), Hichory Wind (Gillian Welch), In My Hour Of Darkness (Rolling Creekdippers). Almo's pages on the CD include a story by Bud Scoppa and extended RA audio samples.  The Gram Parsons Homepage is a well done fan site. Released July, '99, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Various Artists
Songcatcher –Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture... (Vanguard)
Unlike it’s kindred soundtrack O Brother Where Art Thou,  Songcatcher is actually a movie about music.  As a result (or maybe in spite of that), this soundtrack is a more cohesive piece than O Brother.  Concentrating on female artists helps.  Also, the quality of the artists included here is remarkable.  Emmylou Harris, Allison Moorer, Dolly Parton (bluegrass Dolly), Iris Dement, Rosanne Cash, Maria McKee; this roster reads like a lineup of Americana/Roots all-stars.  Mostly traditional tunes with some originals mixed in, these artists and producers have found success in simplicity.  Each track is either acappella, or features acoustic accompaniment, and the result clicks in a way most soundtrack or compilation recordings never quite realize.  A couple of highlights are Julie Miller’s spare rendition of her “All My Tears” and Maria McKee’s haunting “Wayfarin’ Stranger”.   My only complaint is that the two “Score Suite”(s), orchestral interludes from the movie, don’t belong here and should have been left off.  When they come up, just hit  >>|.  They’re near the end – by the time they come up you‘ll be blissed out on the mountain music, and won’t really care.
Released Jan. '01.  Reviewed by Marty Harper.

Various Artists
Song Of America... (Split Rock/31 Tigers)

This set is tough to review. Comprised of three discs and 50 songs, Song Of America is a project conceived and produced by Janet Reno and Ed Pettersen, an odd couple until you learn Reno's niece is Pettersen's wife. The discs are titled Red, White, and Blue. Song Of America works to chart American history in song from 1492 to the present, but this history stops at 2001, ignoring songs pertaining to Iraq and New Orleans. The patriotic fare grates against these absences. I salute the performers (a wonderful gathering, too many to list here) for bringing an unusually high level of creativity and dedication to the material. Tributes and theme projects rarely generate such consistent, high-quality work. Harper Simon's Yankee Doodle Dandy is a delight! The Fisk Jubilee Singers render a very moving Go Down Moses. There are many highlights. My complaint pertains to song selection. As a veteran radio guy who's struggled choosing the precise songs for documentaries, I empathize with the enormous challenge this project presented, but how can you have Happy Days Are Here Again and Get Together, yet skim over (or miss entirely) the blues, coalminers' ballads, dust bowl songs, the blacklist and the Civil Rights movement? I do recommend Song Of America as a listening experience, on the basis of the performances alone (plus the affordable retail price). Some great listening here! The four stars go to the artists for bringing the music to life. For a more thorough history of America in song you'll have to fill in the gaps yourself.

Song Of MySpace Buy from amazon. Released Sept. '07, reviewed by Doug Lang

Various Artists
Take Me Home - A Sampler of American Artists for Peace… (Arden's Garden)

Take Me Home is a 13-song collection of peace songs with a few protest songs too. 100% of the net proceeds support Veterans for Peace in their anti-war efforts. The best known singer is good ol' Country Joe McDonald, himself a veteran and still best know for his Viet Nam protest song, (“Give Me an' F!”). Joe hits Bush pretty hard with “Support The Troops” and Jesse Colin Young's “Peace Song” still sounds good and poignant. Lesser known artists such as Joe Craven, Bob Brozman, Sherry Austin and Joe Paquin check with nice tunes also. The hightlight song would be have to be Keith Greeninger's lovely anthem “Arsenal of Doves". This album was produced by Arden Eaton, a long-time DJ on the legendary KPIG radio. This is a nice, tastefully done collection that doesn't just hit you with the politics. Arden believes that peace is not a political issue, it is a humanitarian issue.

Arden's Garden. Order from CD Baby. Released April, '06, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Various Artists
This One's For Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark... (Icehouse)
There are two characteristics that define a song as a classic. First, there must be a timeless quality that renders it unmoored to the era it was written in. In other words, even if written thirty years ago it should still sound fresh, relevant. Second, it lends itself to interpretation by many singers; its not solely identified with the writer's version or voice. There are writers in every genre who have written songs we now consider classics. If Americana has emerged as it's own bona fide genre then the king of this form would have to be Guy Clark. And one need look no further than the splendid new collection of his songs, performed by friends and admirers, to see the impressive body of work that meets the criteria for "classic". This One's for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark is a marvelous gathering of both some of his best known, & lesser known, songs reinterpreted by a who's who of Americana artists. Rodney Crowell, Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, Rosanne Cash, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Joe Ely, Emmylou Harris, John Prine, Steve Earle, Radney Foster, Patty Griffin, Kris Kristofferson, Vince Gill,  Robert Earl Keen,  Jerry Jeff Walker and others! Many, even most, of these artists find a way to take Guy's song and re-imagine it so as to make it their own. And when it's done well, and many are done well indeed, the classic quality in his writing comes through. But what is also made undeniably clear here is both the profound quality, and quantity, of his work. Though they aim for more, many songwriters would be happy to have one or two songs they could call home runs. The quality and consistency of Guy Clark's writing, demonstrated on this CD, reveal an artist who arrived hitting home runs from the very beginning and continues in his most recent efforts to knock 'em out of the park. One might conclude something like, "does this guy write anything but classics?" That said, there are a couple interpretations here that don't reach the high water mark but they're easily forgiven since even the less satisfying efforts are at least good, while so many versions here are just plain great. This collection confirms what I've said in other reviews: Guy Clark is the best songwriter in America today. A big statement, perhaps, given that we are in a time blessed with many good writers. In fact, many of the best writers are on this CD to pay tribute to the Writer's Writer. No small compliment there. But they know that no one is better at capturing in three or four verses the novel that each each person's life. His attention to the little details that define a life, or a moment passing, is unsurpassed. He is masterful at creating characters that you immediately know and invest in. And while he may not give a happy ending you can count on Guy telling a story, much like his pal and mentor Townes Van Zant would, that is honest, compelling and well told. I'll say it again: Guy Clark is the best songwriter working in America today and I'll stand on Steve Earle's coffee table in his cowboy boots and say that! And this gorgeous tribute record is a testament that I might not be the only person that thinks this way about Guy Clark.
Producer Tamara Saviano's page about the making of the album. Buy from Amazon. Released Dec. 2011 reviewed by Kevin Russell.

Various Artists
Transatlantic Sessions... (Ceili/DNA)
This splendid collection features some of the finest musicians from America, Ireland and Scotland who came together for the making of a BBC television series of the same name. The artists featured include among others, Ricky Skaggs, Nanci Griffith, Paul Brady, Rosanne Cash, Maura O'Connell, Michael Doucet and Sharon Shannon.. Jerry Douglas is the producer and as on his last solo album, has an excellent ear for bringing together a diverse group of talented recording artists, creating a powerful musical statement. This is a quite pleasant selection of  Celtic-American Folk music  that a wide range of people will enjoy.  A few instrumentals and Irish/Scottish tunes mixed in among the ballads to give a sense of origins but not enough to scare  the folks opposed to anything with the word Celtic in it.
Ceili Music is part of Skaggs Family Records...   Released May, 2000, reviewed by Bill Frater.

Various Artists
Why the Hell Not... The Songs of Kinky Friedman... (Sustain)
As I write this we are on the eve of election day 2006 and Texans will soon be voting for the office of governor. Some of them are going to vote for a political neophyte named Kinky Friedman (and as the man says, Why the hell not?) But like his political, populist philosophy, which may seem like a joke at first, his songwriting career holds up well under close inspection. In fact, if you only know Kinky from his campaign, mystery novels or jokey image (the "Texas Jewboy"), these songs (mostly from the mid 70's) may be a revelation to you. The material often plays like a country cousin of both Jimmy Webb and John Prine. Wistful, engaging, funny and moving. With such performers as Lyle Lovett ("Sold American"), Dwight Yoakam ("Rapid City") and Todd Snider ("They Ain't Making Jews like Jesus Anymore"), the material is treated well by means of plaintive vocals and uncluttered arrangements. Tribute albums are often rote, by-the-numbers affairs but this is one terrific record featuring top Americana artists, fine performances and excellent production and material. Not to be missed…

Kinky For Governor... Sustain Records has the CD for a reasonable price, or Buy from amazon. Released Sept. '06, reviewed by Michael Meehan.

Songs In A Northern Key... (E-Squared)
Right off, let me say that this isn't country and while I'm sure critics nationwide will be pouring over their thesauruses seeking the perfect word to describe the kind of music this album contains, I can say for certain that it must spring from a truly original vision. Varnaline, the band, the project, the whatever, comes mostly from the talents of Anders Parker with help from a few buddies. To say his music is unique is to be totally facetious. I would call it a mix of Johnny Cash and Sonic Youth if I had to give a description. The album features many poppy elements but also enough squalling dissonance and white noise to create a sound collage of homespun folk music and post-modern rock unlike any ever attempted. That both Steve Earle and Ray Kennedy took part in the production gets me wondering where the future of country music will head and it is probably no small coincidence that the guy who mastered this CD has the name Hank Williams. Weird or what? You may have to listen to this a few times to get into it but it is well worth the effort and possibly the most barrier-stretching Americana record ever.
E-Squared's site and the Varnaline site is nicely done. Released July, 2001.  Reviewed by Scott Homewood.

Hold On Thru Sleep & Dreams (Shadowdog)

Vaughan opened the “Words and Music” tour for Mellencamp and Fogerty this summer, and that's a fast crowd. Judging from this, his debut release, the man is in no danger of being out-distanced, nor out-classed. This one can stand alongside their work with ease. In fact, they must agree, because he's on the second leg of said tour, which opened in August. They'll be doing the West and Canada, and now, there are three good reasons to catch it, if you can. His songs range from the haunting style of an early James Taylor, in “Sounds Of The City”, a hint of Dylan in “No Use To Me Now”, the minor key melancholia of Mary Gauthier on “I-75”, and the percussion-driven tempo of “Leaf On A River”. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention his backers, an accomplished crew, including Carl Broemel's fine guitar work, and particularly, Ben Simon's slide on “Memories”. Vaughan reportedly has his second one in the can, for release later this year, and I'd be really pleased if it winds up on my doorstep.

Stoll's web site Buy from amazon. Released Nov, '04, reviewed by Don Grant.

Miles Away... (Face West)
A Nashville publicst recently stated “This is a chick who rocks” and she will get no argument from this quarter. Tough and tender, swaggering and emotionally resonant, this is an excellent roots rock release, and “one more time” an artist with a guitar and gift for songs has produced a powerfully musical, sustaining work. The fact that Gina rocks is very clear from the get go with the rootsy stones/faces swagger of the title song, but the equally powerful ballads hold their own. Her gravely voice and strong hooks belong on the radio next to Tom Petty, Lucinda Williams, mid period Small Faces and alt country stalwarts Jayhawks and Whiskeytown ( if only such a station existed.) In the meantime, add it to your playlist.

Gina's site. Buy from amazon. Released April, '07, reviewed by Michael Meehan.

Good Thing Going… (Rounder)

There's no denying that Rhonda Vincent has the looks and voice to be a Nashville Machine Country star. They tried to fit her in that cowboy hat a few years back and it didn't stick so she went back to what she grew up on, bluegrass. Rhonda and her band don't overdo the slick pop ballad bluegrass like Alison Krauss plays. They play more straight-ahead, hard-drivin' bluegrass. The father of bluegrass, Bill Monroe always posed on his album cover with his mandolin and Vincent does the same, albeit in a slinky dress by a pool. So she does tihngs her own way while still honoring the old-timers. She covers the late Jimmy Martin's “Hit Parade Of Love” admirably, and brings in the great Jesse McReynolds for some mando cross-picking on an old Jim & Jesse tune. This is some of the best bluegrass being played today and Rhonda Vincent definitely has a “good thing going”.

Rhonda's official site. Buy from amazon Released Jan. 2007, reviewed by Bill Frater.

No Stranger To A Tele... (HighTone)
Redd has been playing a Fender Telecaster, called a "Tele" for short, with Merle Haggard's band for over 5 years now, and his playing is mighty tasty. Most of the songs are original guitar instrumentals. Redd is a hot picker without being too much of a "showboat" guitarist. He does vocals four or five tunes too and he's not a half bad singer- with a deep rich voice not unlike his boss's voice. I get the feeling he's just as happy to sit back and just pick but decided with co-producer Bruce Bromberg to sing a few of his old favorites just for variety. Recorded in Redd's adopted hometown of Austin and accompanied by Merle's steel player, Norman Hamlet and pianist Floyd Domino, (an original member of Asleep At The Wheel) and others. Nice stuff, definitely worth a listen, especially for guitarists.
HighTone's website. Released March, 2001, reviewed by Bill Frater.

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