There are elements of virtually every side of country music represented on this week’s rundown. From 80s and 90s classic country from icon George Strait’s concert DVD to Rural Rap flavors from the likes of Colt Ford, The Lacs, Danny Boone and others to mainstream country of Maddie & Tae to bluegrass of Steep Canyon Rangers and Americana of David Ramirez. It’s a diverse week and each of these albums and more are given the spotlight.
George Strait - The Cowboy Rides Away (Live From AT&T Stadium) [DVD] (Eagle Vision/UMG)
The official concert DVD for George Strait’s final show at Dallas’ AT&T Stadium, a star-packed 40 song event which includes Martina McBride, Eric Church, Vince Gill, Miranda Lambert, Alan Jackson, Faith Hill, Sheryl Crow, Kenny Chesney and more. The show is a strong setting of what a George Strait concert experience is like and there are guest interviews, interviews with George, commentary from the star about the show and more. The music is great and the show expertly produced. This is a must have for George Strait fans or anyone who likes to collect concert films.
David Ramirez - Fables (Sweetworld/Thirty Tigers)
This is a talented singer/songwriter who has songs and a voice that recalls Ryan Adams. Ramirez sings a batch of personal songs which he recorded in Seattle with a tight band which includes producer Noah Gunderson and pedal steel guitar wiz Greg Leisz. Standouts include “That Ain’t Love,” “Harder To Lie” (as honest a love song you’ll ever hear), “Communion,” “Ball & Chain” and “How Do You Get ‘Em Back?”
Steep Canyon Rangers - Radio (Rounder Records)
With Radio, the IBMA and Grammy award winners expand their sound adding a progressive approach with drums and percussion normally far removed from Bluegrass. While drummer Mike Ashworth has joined the Rangers as an official member of this bluegrass outfit (along with lead vocalist/guitarsist Woody Platt, Graham Sharp, Charles R Humphrey III, and Mike Guggino are the other members). But, this isn’t to say that they’re abandoning bluegrass in any way, it just means that Steep Canyon Rangers are amongst the best in their field and want to expand their sounds a little bit. It gets expanded with Radio, an album produced by IBMA winner and bluegrass and country music icon Jerry Douglas. “Simple As Me” is a strong bluegrass number as is “Blue Velvet Rain” and “When The Well Runs Dry.” This record, thanks to the percussive elements. “Blow Me Away” is a song that would fit right in on SiriusXM’s The Highway as would the strong title track. All in all, the Steep Canyon Rangers manage to grow their sound without alienating where they came from.
Maddie & Tae - Start Here (Dot Records)
For those fans out there looking for fresh young artists who make honest to God country music, Maddie & Tae are definitely the duo for you. Start Here, the first album released by new imprint Dot Records and the duo as well, showcases a talent that belies their teenaged years with sharp songwriting (“Girl In A Country Song,” “Shut Up And Fish,” “Sierra,” and “Downside Of Growing Up”) along with the inspirational “Fly” and perhaps the best song on the record, “After The Storm Blows Through,” a lovely showcase of vocal dynamics that doesn’t get too melismatic. There’s a pulsating feel of life, love and everything else that falls into our lives and Maddie Marlow and Tae Dye showcase why they should be around for a long time to come as their debut Start Here features a nice combination of traditional (steel guitars, fiddles, etc.) and contemporary production (from Dann Huff) that helps to make the album one of 2015’s best releases yet.
Jennell - Home (independent)
The talented singer/songwriter has a unique sound and point of view on this self-issued EP. The singer — who debuted “Feels Like Home” on Roughstock the day of this EP’s release — has crafted five strong songs from the opener “Long Way From Home” to the closer “Feels Like Home.” There’s a groove to each of the tracks that lends them to ear worm status. Keep an eye on Jennell, she’s one to watch.
Drew Baldridge - Crossing County Lines (Deluxe Edition) (THiS Music)
Crossing County Lines (Deluxe Edition) is a strong collection of songs and showcases a singer/songwriter with a strong voice that blends the traditional and contemporary country sounds well and if you're a fan looking for new, now, next, then Drew Baldridge is one for you to set your sights on. Standouts include “Dance With Ya,” “Rebound,” “Tractors Don’t Roll,” “Town The World Forgot,” “God’s Front Porch” and “Missing A Shoe.” Of these, perhaps “Dance With Ya” and “God’s Front Porch” showcase why Baldridge is such a strong contender. The former is an uptempo contemporary song which is downright fun while “God’s Front Porch” feels like a tune that could’ve been a hit in any of the past few decades.
Various Artists - Mud Digger 6 (Average Joes Entertainment)
There’s a growing group of fans in the suburbs and rural areas of the country that love talking about their trucks and mud bogging and that’s exactly where the Mud Digger 6 excels with a mostly Rural Rap-leaning collection of songs from the likes of Lenny Cooper, The Lacs & Hard Target (“Free Birds”), Bubba Sparxxx, Cypress Spring, Moonshine Bandits, I4Ni, Charlie Farley, Moccasin Creek and new songs from country singers JJ Lawhorn, Amber Delacruz and Trailer Choir, whose song “Better With A Beer” is a focus track and announces the return of the duo to a record label after a few years of working on their own after parting ways with Show Dog Nashville. It’s all made in good fun and for people looking for some excapist music or music to bump at the mud bog and events, Mud Digger 6 is another winning collection of tunes.