This week’s list of new music is smaller than normal but as we say time and time again, do not confuse that with a lack of quality. Instead the albums here are worthy of your time and touch on various parts of the industry from confessional country/folk from Jewel to mainstream country in the hands of Brett Eldridge and Dallas Smith with Pete Scobell Band somewhere in between.
Brett Eldredge - Illinois (Atlantic Nashville)
The follow-up to Bring You Back, Brett Eldredge's 2012 debut release, Illinois has a lot going for it as the 2014 CMA Best New Artist winner co-produced and co-wrote the entire album. Working with frequent co-writer Ross Copperman for all but 2 of the dozen tracks, Brett Eldridge has evolved his sound a bit with Illinois, blending in his natural crooner influences (he loves Sinatra) with contemporary rhythms, melodies and production techniques. It’s a blend that positions Brett Eldridge as a modern day Ronnie Milsap. Brett co-wrote each of the dozen songs and they could all be singles if the timing is right. Standouts inlclude lead single “Lose My Mind,” the title track “Illinois,” “Shadow,” funky “Drunk On Your Love,” “Wanna Be That Song,” “Time Well Spent” and “You Can’t Stop Me,” a duet with Thomas Rhett (who drops his own album Tangled Up next week).
Pete Scobell Band - Walkin' A Wire (Frogbonez Entertainment)
The retired Navy SEAL’s first full-length features songs from a-list songwriters and showcases why he’s been able to work with people like Wynonna and garner attention from media outlets nationwide. Pete Scobell is a natural entertainer and a strong singer (think Billy Ray Cyrus). Many who are bemoaning the lack of talented mainstream artists should really check Walkin’ A Wire Out. Why? Because of songs like “Walkin’ A Wire” (co-written by Dierks Bentley), “Wild,” as real as a song about losing some close to you can get, “The Fight” a barn-burner a la Big & Rich, and the Brooks & Dunn-like “Feels Like You Know Me.” The record closes with what might be the three best tracks in “World In The Way,” the iTunes #1 “Hearts I Leave Behind” and “Friends With Money.” The latter two are both Travis Meadows co-writes (former with Nick Sturms and the latter with Bobby Pinson).
Dallas Smith - Kids With Cars EP (Big Loud Mountain/Blaster)
With the release of this EP, Dallas Smith offers up fans his second full EP of songs which showcase his brand of country/rock, a sound fans of Jake Owen or Florida Georgia Line should find to their liking. But just because he’s working with the same producer (Joey Moi), don’t expect Smith’s songs to be “Bro” as they’re more than that. The title track — and single — is a fun track with a relatable, nostalgic story while “Wasting Gas” is all about living in the moment. “Lifted” may very well be the best song on the EP and showcases why Smith has become a star in Canada (with multiple awards and arena headliner status).
Jewel - Picking Up The Pieces (Sugar Hill Records)
The talented singer/songwriter brings what may be the most confessional album of hers since her debut release Pieces of Me from 20 years ago. This is one that’s all about her life as a with the talented soprano showcasing her Emmylou Harris-like vocal textures while telling impactful stories on her self-produced album (which she is a featured writer on all but one track). The band is tight and she features guests in Dolly Parton on “My Father’s Daughter” and Rodney Crowell on “It Doesn’t Hurt Right Now. The former is a beautiful story song written with Lisa Carver and on it Dolly and Jewel blend their voices quite well. On the latter song, the duo treat us to a Beautifully melancholic song that recalls The Beatles at times and certainly suggests that Jewel and her co-writer Crowell should probably make a full record together somewhere down the line. Other standouts are “Family Tree,” “A Boy Needs A Bike,” the heartbreaking, lilting opener “A Boy Needs A Love” and “Pretty Faced Fool.” The final song is the only one Jewel didn’t write (Kip Moore, Dan Crouch and Brett James did). All in all, it’s a brilliant release from one of modern music’s best storytellers.