This week there's a plethora of new releases with 8 new albums in stores ripe for purchase while we also have a pair of albums released last week to catch y'all up on. The week gets off to a flying start with the return of Grand Ole Opry member Hal Ketchum with his comeback album I'm The Troubadour. The album is his first since sickness from MS forced him into retirement (he couldn't play or sing). Newcomer Old Dominion has issued their first EP via Thirty Tigers while we also have new records from indie stalwart Ray Scott, Jessica Campbell, and Brian Collins. Finally we have a 2o track live record from "Country-ish" troubadours Sister Hazel and the 6th album from Jason Aldean, Old Boots, New Dirt.
Ray Scott - Ray Scott (Decibel Nashville)
With his last record Rayality producing a couple of hits including SiriusXM stalwart "Those Jeans," it was only natural for Ray Scott to release a follow-up album helmed by the guy who helped make Rayality a success; producer Dave Brainard (Brandy Clark, Jerrod Niemann). On Ray Scott the neo-traditional has co-written the stellar "Wheels On The House" with Clark, Stunning closer "I Miss The Days" with Lance Miller and SiriusXM hit "Drinkin' Beer" with Tony Mullins. The majority of the albums 11 cuts are self-penned by Scott and showcase his uniquely country observational point of view, a point of view that's often conversational in tone and nothing but pure country.
Old Dominion - Old Dominion EP (ReeSmack Records/Thirty Tigers)
The five-piece band is from Virginia and Michigan and showcases what happens when a group of friends form a band and work together for years. The 5 track EP features the popular SiriusXM radio hit "Shut Me Up." Lead vocalist Matthew Ramsey co-wrote each of the tracks on the album with guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist Trevor Rosen contributing to four of the five. The entire band (which also includes bassist Geoff Sprung, drummer Whit Sellers and lead guitarist Brad Tursi) co-wrote the conversational "Break Up With Him." Each song on the EP could be a hit if given the chance by radio with "Wrong Turns" perhaps showing a bit of crossover potential with programmed percussive beats that remind me of MGMT. Fans of the band's divisive "Dirt On A Road" will be in for a special surprise should they choose to purchase the album. Our favorite on the record? "Beer Can In A Truck Bed," an infectious little number. Shane McAnally Produced the project.
Sister Hazel - 20 Stages (Rock Ridge Entertainment)
Sister Hazel may not be a mainstream country music act in the truest of definitions but if you listen to the 20 songs that they recorded at 20 different venues, you hear an act that has a remarkably close sound to whatever you want to call country music these days. Songs like "Mandolin Moon," "Everything Else Disappears," "Release" and "This Kind Of Love" are all ripe for potential country star remakes while the band's iconic 90s anthem "All For You" shows us where the band started. With a fiercely loyal group of fans 20 Stages is the perfect thank you to their fans for 20 years making music as a career. Music, as it so happens, that stands the test of time and has remained remarkably consistent through the years.
Hal Ketchum - I’m The Troubadour (Music Road)
One of the purest vocalists you'll ever hear, Hal Ketchum is also one of the purest songwriters to ever grace a stage as well. While his career has been up and down (along with a tough at times personal life) and he's long past his salad days as a radio star, Ketchum has carved out a nice niche in the world. He still makes remarkably strong music and on his first album since leaving Curb Records, Ketchum showcases his folksy, jazzier side on a pair of revised classics from his catalog. "Stay Forever" simply shines in this setting as does "I Know Where Love Is." Other standouts that longtime fans will enjoy are the funky title track "I'm The Troubadour," "Drive On" and "Lord, Help Me Please." It's a stunning return to form for the 90s poet among poets.
Various Artists - The Best Of Me Soundtrack (Relativity/EMI Nashville)
The album to the latest film adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel kicks off with "I Did With You," the end credits track written by Lady Antebellum for the film. It's only available on this album, as are new tracks from Hunter Hayes ("Dream Girl"), Thompson Square ("Borrowed Time"), Thomas Rhett ("The Way Things Go") and Kip Moore ("Lead Me"). Also on the album are tracks from Colbie Calliat, SHEL & Gareth Dunlop, Kacey Musgraves, David Nail, Eric Paslay and Eli Young Band. The album is largely a collection of love and inspirational songs and they do make for a cohesive soundtrack, even if these are largely songs that'll never appear anywhere else.
Brian Collins - Healing Highway (Blue Light Entertainment)
It's not often that I think "star" when listening to an artist for the first time but that's exactly how I felt when I listened to Brian Collins sing during the 2014CMA Music Festival. Now that I've had time to sit with Healing Highway, my initial impression has only been confirmed. The talented singer from Georgia co-wrote each track on he album and co-produced the album with Mills Logan (and Kenny Greenberg for the title track). The song showcases an aritst with a collection of 13 honey-voiced tracks with real, earthy lyrics and melodies. In many ways Healing Highway reminds me of Zac Brown Band's The Foundation mixed with a bit of James Otto's Sunset Man. Collins has one of the best voices I've heard and showcases it on "Shine A Little Love," "Next 500 Miles," and the stunning "Little Girl Lost."
Jessica Campbell - III (Little London Records)
Campbell released a strong album in 2013 called The Anchor & The Sail that might've been more rootsy and 'country' than III but we've become fans of her brand folksy songs. Where as Anchor was a bit sad, III -- Campbell's third LP -- showcases a newly married, happier woman (for the most part). There are strong melodies on opener "Brighter Days" and the twangy "Homesick For A Heart" while "Losing Your Mind" has a sense of classic storytelling to it, a sound that might've worked on past records from Mary Chapin Carpenter, Trisha Yearwood or Faith Hill. One of the absolutely stunning tracks on the record (but completely "pop") is "Lennon & McCartney Lied." With more strong records like III, it won't be long before other places (and labels perhaps) take notice of the strong and talented Jessica Campbell.
Jason Aldean - Old Boots, New Dirt (Broken Bow)
With this record, Jason Aldean is ready to reclaim his lofty status as a true A-list superstar in Country Music. The songs are largely the kinds of songs we've come to expect from Aldean, with songs like "Just Gettin' Started" and "Show You Off" featuring familar themes but the melodies are what are slightly different than previous records. Like other previous albums, Jason Aldean serves up a collection of 15 songs running the gamut of rural themes and emotions. There's a sweetly romantic ballad in "Tryin' To Love Me," the beat and groove-filled "Sweet Little Somethin'" (a surefire chart-topper to be), pre-order hit "Tonight Looks Good On You," R&B love song "Burnin' It Down" and "Too Fast," a song featuring one of the writers, Chris Stapleton. The latter one is very mid-tempo and clearly a country ballad where Aldean shows off a voice that often doesn't 'stretch' to different octaves. There's no denying that Jason Aldean's Old Boots, New Dirt could be seen as more of the same from the superstar but it also feels like it's an evolution in his sound, an evolution that will help him continue his dominance. (There's a CD version at Target that features three bonus traks, "Fast Lane," "Too Much You For Me," and "Ain't No Easy Way").
Ray Johnston Band - No Bad Days (Vision Entertainment)
The former basketball player survived cancer and arrived on the scene in 2012 with Against The Grain and returns with No Bad Days. Along with considerable musical growth, Johnston shows a stronger voice on these elven tracks, many co-written with the likes of James Slater, James Otto, Trent Willmon, Patrick Davis and William Clark Green. There's a strong cover of "Amie" which features The Rankin Twins while producer Erik Herbst (Eli Young Band) has brought a stellar list of musicians to the table including Drew Womack. Standout tracks inlcude Texas chart hit "More Crown Than Coke," "Life Out There," "Small Town Square" and "Days We Live For."
Alabama & Friends - At The Ryman (Eagle Records/UMG)Recorded on location at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee, At The Ryman is a 120 minute concert that's available on audio format as a two disc CD (or digital download) while there are also digital download, DVD and Blu-ray videos available of the concert. The concert features special guests like Florida Georgia Line, Jamey Johnson, Trisha Yearwood, Eli Young Brand, Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean (all of whom appear on the 2013 album Alabama And Friends). The trio's concert (which was one of the early shows from their return to the stage after a long hiatus) finds the band in consistent form and clearly enjoying every minute of the performances. They cover a lot of classics throughout the two hour show and it's the kind of record that will get you as close to an Alabama live show as you're likely to get, unless they're playing a show near you.--
New singles this week include "Quit Breaking Up With Me" from Little Big Town's Painkiller, "Fall Apart" from Casey James and "Black Water" from The Doobie Brothers and Zac Brown from the Doobie Brothers' upcoming album.