It’s always great to see how big a tent Country music as a genre has. There’s traditional country, modern country, folk/country, country/rap, country/rock and more all covered in this rundown of recently released album projects.
Various Artists - “Voices: Vintage Hymns with Heart And Soul” (Breezewood Productions/MRI/RED)
Producer Michael Sykes and Breezewood Productions’ Denise Strother have compiled a strong list of artists for this mighty fine album of traditional Gospel hymns. Restless Heart’s Larry Stewart takes on “Sweet Hour of Prayer” and digs in with his meaty vocals (with piano accompaniment by Gospel legend Gary Smith) while two of The Oak Ridge Boys, William Lee Golden and Joe Bonsall offer up brilliant, just brilliant renditions of “In The Sweet By And By” (Golden) and “I Love To Tell The Story.” Bonsall performs with Trae Edwards, a talented Nashville-based artist well known throughout the Gospel world. Edwards, for his part, takes on the classic “The Old Rugged Cross.” Other artists on the project include Woody Wright, Judy Martin Hess, Joy Gardiner, Phil Keaggy, Michael English, and Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers.
The Roosevelts - The Greatest Thing You’ll Ever Learn (Independent)
A duo featuring James Mason and Jason Kloss, The Roosevelts features a tight backing band (including album producer Dwight Baker) throughout the album and they help the duo present a record ready to compete with folksters, hipsters, rockers, country stars and anyone else who often gets lumped into the Americana field. “Hard To Believe” is ready for AOR radio while the groove-filled “Go Down Easy” does just that melodically. The pulsating country/rock of “Belly of the Beast” is exactly the kind of meaty outlaw country we should be hearing more of in the mainstream while other standouts on The Greatest Thing You’ll Ever Learn include Peaches, “Tell Only Lies,” and “Runaround.” The closer “You’re Not Alone” is perhaps the best tune on the record as it finds the duo singing to anyone who has ever felt the pull and lull of depression and lets them know how they can carry on and that they’re not ever truly alone.
Mary Chapin Carpenter - The Things That We Are Made Of (Lambent Light Records/Thirty Tigers)
Working with Dave Cobb for the first time, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s latest project came off as a bit of a disappointment to me. It’s not that it’s cerebral, it is. The lyrics and melodies are very much in the MCC lane but outside of the first couple of songs like the brilliant opener “Something Tamed Something Wild and second track “The Middle Ages,” this record, The Things That We Are Made Of, is more or less just there. As a longtime fan, that’s a disappointment as the record blends too far into the background.
Kristy Cox - “Part Of Me” (Pisgah Ridge)
The Australian native returns with her latest effort for Pisgah Ridge with 11 more tracks that are a pure delight. Producer Jerry Salley has collected a strong group of songwriters for Part of Me which include her take on Chris Stapleton’s heartwrenching “Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore,” along with a spirited take on on the Pam Tillis co-written title trac. Kristy co-wrote four of the tracks including “You Waked In” and “William Henry Johnson.” The album blends traditional country gems with the bluegrass sounds that Pisgah’s known for and Cox showcases why she’s taken so well to the format.
Prophets & Outlaws - V (Seven Set Jam Records)
In a word? Superb. This may not be a country record but it’s very rootsy. And soulful. Vocalist Matt Boggs is definitely a draw here. The lead guitarist, Stephen Guckenheimer adds in brilliant guitar licks just when he needs to and the groove is primary to the EP’s power. This is a band that recalls Marc Broussard and Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats. The entire EP stands out but “Show Me” is fierce, “Lonely” is toe-curling soul food and “Outlaw Like Me” is a kind of slow jam which recalls D’angelo’s soul’n’b. This EP is everything that is good about music.
Swift Creek - Magnolia (Vital Records)
Talented bluegrass band shows humorous side of life on their latest project. The album includes a parody of the Eagles “Life In The Fast Lane” as “Life In The Slow Lane” and while that’s fun, it’s the originals from frontman Kevin Brown which are the highlights here including “Bluegrass Hurricane,” “Rattle Them Bones,” “The Levee” and “Wake Me Up To Drive.”
Levi Parham - These American Blues (Music Road Records)
A soulful vocalist, Levi Parham’s brand of Americana blends country, rock, the blues and soul into an interesting blender. Much like Ray LaMontagne, Levi Parham features a robust, powerful voice and has equally interesting stories as a singer/songwriter. Working with iconic artist Jimmy LaFave as his producer, Parham delivers 13 transformative songs that serve as a cohesive body of work. Fuller review coming in the days ahead. The record deserves a deeper dive than this paragraph can provide.
Lonesome River Band - “Bridging The Tradition” (Mountain Home Record Company)
There are few bands in Bluegrass (or country music for that matter) as talented and as diverse as Lonesome River Band. On this latest release, the five-piece band blends lead vocals from Jesse Smathers and Brandon Rickman and blends traditional bluegrass and country together in a nice little package. Standouts include “Anything To Make Her Mine,” Ralph Stanley’s “Rock Bottom,” “Showing My Age,” “Mirrors Never Lie,” and “Real People” along with a couple choice country covers: Rodney Atkins’ “Rocking of the Cradle” (from the late songwriter Kim Williams) and Waylon’s “Rose In Paradise.” Bridging the Tradition indeed.
Charlie Farley - All I’ve Been Through (Backroads Records/Phivestarr/Average Joes)
It’s really simple. Charlie Farley is the best rapper in the country/rap or, as I like to call it, Rural Rap scene (if not one of the best in the larger rap world). Working with production team Phivestarr, Farley has thirteen strong songs and he’s singing the hooks along with spitting out the rhymes throughout the project. The blend is stunning and songs like “Cashville” and “Going Going Gone” are honest looks at life and “Country As This” blends his roots to everything. “Love Harder,” “Southern Summertime” and “Concrete Dreams” feel ready for primetime but without a shadow of a doubt, “Red Rose” is the best song on the record. Between Charlie’s spoken/rapped verses and Noah Gordon’s tear-soaked vocal in the hook, the song, a personal song about his sister is the kind of song that just hits home.
Matthew Barber & Jill Barber - The Family Album (Outside Music)
Americana from the Great White North (Canada), The Family Album is a collection of new tunes and covers from the brother and sister duo sing together. There might not be a finer collection of songs to listen to, from Bobby Charles “I Must Be In A Good Place Now” and “Neil Young’s “Comes A Time” to Townes Van Zant’s “If I Needed You” and Ian Tyson’s “Summer Wages,” the harmonies are at the forefront showcasing why sibling harmony is always so strong. Add their own “One True Love,” “Grandpa Joe” and “The Sweeter The Dawn” and you have a record that rivals the greatest of family records (and non family projects like Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell’s projects).