Friday, December 16, 2011

Best Country Albums of 2011

As the year winds down, we'll be taking time off to spend with family and to reflect on the year that's passed. One of our great joys this year was being able to share with you some of our favorite new indie Country artists. So here's our list of best Country Albums of 2011, including many of our new friends. (The list is alphabetical, not ranked.)

Hayes Carll: KMAG YoYo
Beautifully sloppy underground Country.
Chicken Tractor Deluxe: Nightclub Jacks & Undertakers
Great retro charm.
Casey Donahew Band: Double Wide Dream
A double dose of Texas road house energy.
Michael Donner & Southern Renaissance: No Better Time
Poetic and beautifully arranged debut with punches of guitar flurry.
Family Reunion: Family Album
What can we say? We made it, we like it!
The Far West: The Far West
Good old fashioned cry in your beer country.
Merle Haggard: Working in Tennessee
Still working, still legendary.
Robert Earl Keen: Ready for Confetti
The party never ends for the seminal Texas songwriter.
Toby Keith: Clancy's Tavern
Another great sing along (drink along) collection from Toby.
Miranda Lambert: Four the Record
Her amazing hit streak continues.
Martina McBride: Eleven
Her most heartfelt album to date.
Brad Paisly: This Is Country Music
This is great guitar work, sly humor, and an all star musical guest list.
Steve Parry: The Fight Left in Me
Real cowboy songs that pack emotional punch.
Kelly Thomas & The Fabulous Pickups: Fly
An anthem to dysfuntional relationships.

Merry Christmas to all y'all! See you in 2012!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Toby Keith promises kids with cancer, "I Won't Let You Down"

Toby Keith once sang about putting an extra $20 in the plate at church in his song, "My List." Well Toby is a man of his word - and then some. Through his Toby Keith Foundation, he is helping to raise 8.7 million dollars for the OK Kids Korral in Oklahoma City. The Center will provide a home for pediatric cancer patients and their families while they are receiving treatment at The Children's Hospital at OU Medical Center, the Peggy and Charles Stephenson Cancer Center and other nearby facilities. Toby was inspired to take action after a friend's (and former bandmate) child died from cancer. The plans and designs were approved Wednesday by the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority. Construction on the 25,000-square-foot, two-story building should begin this spring and be complete in late 2013. Congratulations to Toby and his foundation for their efforts. Toby may not be "As Good As I Once Was," in some areas, but his heart is better than ever!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Album of the Week: Fly by Kelly Thomas & the Fabulous Pickups

Fly by Kelly Thomas & the Fabulous Pickups is an anthem to dysfunctional relationships. In the album's first track, "Hard Winter," Kelly introduces us to the hard-hearted object of her affections. In "Fly" Kelly urges her would be lover to take a chance on her, "you can see love as a freedom, or you might see a cage...I wanna fly high above my fears." She sweetens the offer in the sultry "Enough:" "you can look, you can touch, you can love baby, but not too much." The relationship moves from the come and go casualness of "Hello Goodbye," to the painful self-awareness of "Worse for the Wear,"and inevitably ends up with "Wish You Bad." As with all dysfunctional relationships, the initial breakup doesn't take, so Kelly dives once more into the troubled waters of her love. With several more songs that explore the explosive nature of her affair. The album reaches resolution with the beautifully tender, "High Time," where she is finally able to say goodbye for good ("you love to swim in the swill, but I love you still though I can't stand to see you this way. So I'm cutting the line, because you can't say goodbye to the booze and the pills and the pain.") Only after all ties are severed is Kelly's character able to fly away to her own freedom. In the triumphant "Fearless," Kelly embraces her new found freedom with gusto.Like someone who's been through Hell and has nothing left to fear she sets off to start a new chapter in her life. The album ends in the soothing emotional coda, "As I Abide." It's a gentle, acoustic intrumental; and perhpaps a fitting end to the story as sometimes the only way to get over a bad relationship is to stop talking (and thinking) about it.
Along this musical journey Kelly uses her vocal and emotional range to really bring the story to life. "Fly" is reminiscent of Roseanne Cash's "The Seven Year Ache." She conjures the sultriness of Elannah Myles for the tempting, "Enough." She also brings the intimacy of Margo Timmins (of Cowoby Junkies) to several songs including "Hello Goodbye." The Fabulous Pickups add to the depth of this album by changing tempos in perfect time with the narrative of the story. With mournful slide guitars and defiant electric guitar work, the Fabulous Pickups help capture all the highs and lows of this emotional roller coaster ride. But for those of us lucky enough to eavesdrop on this musical confessional, there are only highs.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Song of the Week: She Doesn't Sing by Jeremy McComb

I've been trading emails with my friends over at Turnstyled and Junkpiled about the nature of Country music in general and Americana in particular. As reviewers we receive dozens of new CDs every month. More and more of these artists are calling themselves Americana, Alt-Country, CowPunk, Psychobilly, Roots Music, etc. It seems lately independent bands are shying away from the name Country. So it was refreshing for me to finally find an artist who is not ashamed to admit that he is Country.
Jeremy McComb has a great unabashadly Country style. He's a combination of Tim McGraw and Phil Vassar, both with his voice and his songwriting. He spent seven years in Nashville honing his skills as a singer and songwriter. After several recording, and promotion, and management contracts were signed and abandoned, Jeremy was starting to lose faith (and maybe this is why so many abandon the "Country" label.) He even contemplated quitting writing when he recalled some advice from an old friend who said, "This town will either make you bitter or it will make you better." Jeremy decided to move himself to the second category and refocused on his writing. The result is his second CD, Leap (and the net will appear.) "She Doesn't Sing," from that album is a great Country song (not alt, anti, or any other adjective - just Country!) In the song Jeremy contemplates the tell tale signs that his woman is leaving, "She ain't trying to hide it, but I think she might've finally said waht she couldn't say." With melodic guitar work and subtle flourishes of mandolin that shine like blue sky through the clouds, this is a dead-on Country break up song. And even if "She Doesn't Sing," after listening to this song, you will.
And as a special bonus, here's a video for "Wagon Wheel," from his first album. Enjoy and long live Country!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hank Jr. raises $75,000 for Country Music Hall of Fame

Of all the "family traditions" that Hank Williams Jr. is famous for, my favorite is still the music. Yesterday Hank treated fans at Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame to some of his best. He played some of his hits like A Country Boy Can Survive, Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound and The Blues Man (with his youngest son, Sam, joining in on the family tradition.) Hank Jr. also played several classics from his father and his musical heroes Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings. He also sprinkled in a few tunes from his new CD, due out next March.
The concert capped off the four year exhibit, "Family Tradition: The Williams Family Legacy." Although that exhibit will officially end on December 31, 2011, Hank Jr. announced that many of the items he donated for the exhibit will remain at the museum. That and the $75K he raised makes for a nice early Christmas present for the Hall of Fame. If you'd like to follow Hank's lead, you can donate here to support the HoF and museum.

Family Tradition Exhibit Closing from Country Music Hall of Fame on Vimeo.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Free Download of our single!

Hey y'all! We've been busy promoting our upcoming CD, FAMILY ALBUM. In between trips to the post office and sending emails, we wanted to take time out and remember our fans who helped make this possible. To say thanks, we wanted to share a free copy of our first single, Blue Collar King,with you. Just click the link on the left and follow the instructions. See you on your ipod!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

ACA Award Roundup

Well, another week, another awards show. The American Country Awards were presented last night at the Las Vegas MGM hotel. I must confess I missed most of it to watch Disney's Prep & Landing (I have to watch anything John Lasseter has a hand in, he's a story telling genius!)
Anyway, here's the rundown of last night's winners:

Artist of the Year: Jason Aldean
Male Artist of the Year: Brad Paisley
Female Artist of the Year: Carrie Underwood
Group of the Year: Lady Antebellum
New Artist of the Year: Scotty McCreery
Breakthrough Artist of the Year: Chris Young
Album of the Year: My Kinda Party, Jason Aldean
Single of the Year: "Voices," Chris Young
Single of the Year, Male Artist: "Who Are You When I'm Not Looking," Blake Shelton
Single of the Year, Female Artist: "Mama's Song," Carrie Underwood
Single of the Year by a Group: "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not," Thompson Square
Single of the Year, New Artist: "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not," Thompson Square
Single of the Year, Vocal Collaboration: "Don't You Wanna Stay," Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson
Touring Artist of the Year: Jason Aldean
Music Video of the Year: "Who Are You When I'm Not Looking," Blake Shelton
Music Video, Male Artist: "Who Are You When I'm Not Looking," Blake Shelton
Music Video, Female Artist: Carrie Underwood, "Mama's Song"
Music Video, Duo, Group or Collaboration: "Don't You Wanna Say," Jason Aldean and Kelly Clarkson
Music Video, New Artist: "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not," Thompson Square
Greatest Hits Award: Alabama
Artist of the Decade: Toby Keith

I know this award is special to many performers as it is the only country award where fans vote directly for winners. So congrats to all the winners (and nominees!)Anda special congrat to Toby Keith for winning ten year's worth of awards in one night!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Album of the Week: NO BETTER TIME by Michael Donner & the Southern Renaissance

For our first album review after Thanksgiving, we give you the musical feast that is No Better Time by Michael Donner & the Southern Renaissance. Brimming with creative musical ararngements and instrumentations, No Better Time serves up a thinking fan's casserole of tasty alt-country. Like Ryan Adams and The Civil Wars, Michael Donner and band deliver introspective lyrics and melodic arrangements. With lines like, "I go down to the big creek, I get down upon my knees. I pray, Lord, won't you change a man like me." from Tall Trees, it's clear that Michael puts some thought into his lyrics. And his voice delivers those lyrics with a sweetly melodic rasp. Like a pretzel M&M, he finds that perfect mix of salty and sweet. On Arms of California, he yearns for the Golden State like a lost lover, "watching days turn into weeks, I don't think looking back is wasted time." He continues the balladeering on the delightful daydream, Slip Away, and the romantic confessional, Watching You. But for me some of the finest moments on this album are when Michael and company break out the jangling guitars and shift into second gear. Songs like, Living Free, You Really Got Me, and Been a Long Time are all great midtempo numbers. They're joyful without being raucous. They celebrate so much more than the temporary escape of weekend overindulgence, these songs are a tribute to the simple joys of freedom, nature, and solid relationships. In Been a Long Time, Michael reminds us to, "forget about the bad times and think about the good times; Lord you know we'll be all right." With the world's current state of affairs, there may be No Better Time for that message!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Song of the Week: Little Drummer Boy by Fatih Hill

Well I haven't even finished the leftover Thanksgiving turkey and the Christmas specials have already begun! CMA broadcast their annual Christmas special last night. I loved seeing my favorite diva, Miss Piggy, turn the tables on the classic, Baby It's Cold Outside, by singing the persuader part of the song to Vince Gills gentle protests. Their was a nice moment when Scotty McCreery granted a wish to a young Make A Wish fan in the audience. Brian Setzer teamed up with Brad Paisley to add a little swing to the festivities as well. But for me, the highlight was Faith Hill's version of Little Drummer Boy. She perfomed acapello with a men's choir singing backup. Amidst all the pomp and production, Faith's song was understated and reverent. It was a nice counterbalance to some of the glitz and a gentle reminder of the real meaning of Christmas.
I wanted to embed the video for y'all, but the YouTube clip from last night doesn't have the sound working properly. Here's a link to Faith doing a similar version from a few years back. Hope this helps get you in the Christmas spirit!