This week's list includes a handful of new release EPs and the albums missed from last week. The albums include seasonal albums from Jamey Johnson and Sara Evans, the return of Trisha Yearwood, indie artists like Jonathan Byrd, Randy Montana, Stephen Hunley and Randy Montana and Dallas Smith's second EP release if 2014.
Adam Hood - Welcome To The Big World (Break Away Artists)
The fourth album in Adam’s career, Welcome To The Big World comes after a pair of releases for indie labels, including the label for his publisher Carnival. Over the years from his first acoustic recording in 2002 to 2012’s The Shape of Things, Adam Hood evolved from promising but still finding himself newcomer to one of the top songwriters in the Country and roots rock genres (with cuts on major albums to prove it). With Welcome To The Big World, Adam expands on The Shape Of Things and gives the world a fine 11 track album complete with the rollicking honky tonk numbers like “Don’t That Sound Like Love” and “Bar Band.” “Trying To Write A Love Song” looks like long-lost John Hiatt song while “Whole Lot Of Hard Work” has a soulful Ronnie Milsap vibe to it. “Postcards and Payphones” stands out as does “The Countriest,” the fantastic duet with Sunny Sweeney. There’s a blend of soul, rock, Texas Country, roots rock and country to Welcome To The Big World that makes it stand out amongst the sea of albums released in the 4th quarter of 2014. Co-writers include Will Hoge, Charlie Worsham, Mando Saenz, Wayd Battle and Logan Mize.
Sara Evans - At Christmas (RCA Nashville)
Basically an EP of newly-recorded Yuletide offerings paired with three previously-released Christmas singles, At Christmas is an album Sara Evans was probably born to sing. The title track is the lead single and lone new Christmas song and given the melody and story of “At Christmas,” the song is destined to be an oft-recorded Christmas song, it has a timeless feel even though it’s brand new. The standards for Christmas are all here and all done well, including “Silent Night” and “O Holy Night.” The playful “Run Run Rudolph” and yearning “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” are also present.
Trisha Yearwood - PrizeFighter: Hit After Hit (Gwendolyn/RCA Nashville)
After some years away (her last new album was 2006’s Heaven, Heartache And The Power Of Love (the title track which is re-issued here), Trisha returns on her own label via a new deal with RCA Nashville. The title track was the first single and while it may have been too different than anything else on radio to get much of a reaction from radio, it’s still a strong, uplifting track. Fans of Gwen Sebastian will recognize “Met Him In A Motel Room” and fans of songwriter Matraca Berg will recognize “Your Husband’s Cheatin’ On Us.” The mostly acoustic “I Remember You” is a song that anyone who has lost someone will certainly relate to the song, be it a parent, a child, a husband, a friend, a lover. It’s that kind of powerful song (and the kind of song that used to be a big hit on radio). If any of the six new tunes on PrizeFighter is going to be a hit, it’s “End Of The World,” a song written by Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne and Old Dominion’s Trevor Rosen. It has an interesting melody and story. Everything else on the record is re-recorded versions of 10 of her biggest hits (except the duet “In Another’s Eyes” with Garth Brooks, he just licensed the song to his wife). And y’know, the re-recordings, all helmed by Garth Fundis, sound as good, if not better than the original songs. The one missed opportunity was to record “How Do I Live” with the single mix. Instead it’s the original album version that has appeared on previous albums from Trisha Yearwood. The record is great and just the primer for what she has coming sometime in 2015, an all-new album.
Jonathan Byrd - You Can’t Outrun The Radio (Waterbug Records)
The opener “.38 Baby” showcases Byrd’s ability with what is now called Americana music. In reality, it’s rockabilly or the kind of early rock n roll that recalls Chuck Barry. The other tracks run the gamut of traditional roots music with “Starlight,” “Working Offshore” and the tile track among the highlights. The clear standout on the record, though, is “Poor Johnny,” a song which feels like an old farmhand and sharecropper standard but is in fact a new tune. It’s mostly a cappella but it’s infused with soul and tells a terrible story, as such standards and worker anthems often did, via a jovial gospel-infused delivery.
Dallas Smith - Lifted (EP) (Big Loud Mountain)
Yet another rockstar who has taken the country route for his solo career, Dallas Smith doesn’t go traditional with his second EP (his first, Tippin’ Point, was released in early 2014). Instead, Dallas Smith has blended his powerful rock-like vocals with songs about life to create a record that suits him. The production, from Joey Moi, is once again on point and it does feel as dynamic as he told us he was hoping it’d be when we chatted with him last week. The songs are tight and Dallas Smith is definitely a strong vocalist. Songs like “Cheap Seats,” the single “Wastin’ Gas” and “Just Say When” could all be big radio hits (they likely will be in his native Canada) but the title track is my favorite of the bunch. “Lifted” tells a story about a pickup truck being the anchor to the growth of a relationship into something big. It’s the kind of song that could really be Dallas Smith’s breakout moment in the USA.
Kelsea Ballerini - Kelsea Ballerini EP (Black River Entertainment)
The strong vocalist has a decidedly pop-leaning sound to her music. A co-writer on every track on this, her debut release, Kelsea could still be the next big thing in country music if they’ll play her music. She could, in fact, take the slot relinquished by Taylor Swift’s move to pop. “Yeah Boy” has a hook for days, as do “Dibs” and “Looking At Stars.” In fact, nothing here feels as if it couldn’t be a hit on country with a chance to crossover to pop given the right opportunity. She feels like a star. Get on board country radio, even if you don’t get on board with the lead single “Love Me Like You Mean It.”
Randy Montana - Put Me In A Box (EP) (12 Points Records)
The first indie release from the former UMG Nashville artist, the album showcases the singer’s talent as a writer (like his debut album did). Everything about this EP feels as if it’s a reaction to not being a label. It showcases an artist who knows his life is full of potential and that potential also includes second chances, self-dobut and the refusal to let that potential go to waste. The five songs are all co-written by Montana and each could be potential singles if given a shot at radio. Standouts include the tile track, “Young In This Town” and “Creepin’ Up On Me.”
Stephen Hunley - the Other Side Of Never (Etavine Music Group)
The nephew of powerful country vocalist Con Hunley, Stephen Hunley’s debut album the Other Side of Never presents an equally talented artist, albeit one who falls on the AC/Pop side of the musical spectrum. Still Hunley, who worked with heavyweights like Van Atkins and Billy Sherrill in addition to A-list studio musicians for the project, is one of the most-talented vocalists we’ve come across for the first time in 2014. He has a gentle lilt to his voice that recalls UK pop sensation Will Young and he certainly fills a space occupied by nobody in the USA. The songs all have interesting stories, from folksy opener “Oklahoma” to “Something’s Wrong,” a social song about the perils of addiction, a song that pairs well with “Do The Right Thing” and “Pictures In Her Mind,” a song which talks about depression, something that often pairs with addiction to bring down the best and the brightest of us all. This is a record that’s different than all the rest. Here’s hoping the album (which does have happy moments on it like “Papa Don’t Know” and “Speakeasy” and the romantic “Love You In The Dark”) finds an audience. Stephen Hunley is too talented to not get his moment in the sun.
Jamey Johnson - The Christmas Song EP (Big Gassed Records)
Perhaps not the return album people expected, The Christmas Song EP is nonetheless a perfect bridge between Jamey Johnson’s last major label project and his upcoming project on his own label. This EP features four classics and one new track (“South Alabama Christmas”) and it is definitely interesting to hear Johnson singing ‘duets’ with Lily Meola on “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and “Mele Kalikimaka” with The Secret Sisters). “Pretty Paper” was recorded in Texas of course the title cut stand out. In some ways, it’s cool to hear him sing in a tone that’s different than people have expected and that Jamey has a little ‘big band’ vocalist deep down in him, even if its’ the western swing style vocalist.
New Singles Available This Week:
Lucy Hale “Mistletoe” - This is Lucy’s first Christmas single.
Kenny Chensey “Christmas In Blue Chair Bay” - The first new Christmas song from Kenny since his “All I Want For Christmas is A Tan” album.
Sandra Lynn “Afterparty” - The debut single from the rising singer/songwriter. It’s currently airing on SiriusXM’s The Highway.