I live for listening sessions like this one.
The best part of this job is the thrill of discovery. There is simply nothing like hearing a great new artist for the first time. Or watching young ones develop.
I have raved about Brennen Leigh before in this column. This Austin singer-songwriter continues to enthrall me. The Box is her newest CD. But buy anything with her name on it, and prepare to be completely smitten.
This is also a repeat appearance by David Bradley in “DisClaimer.” I am much more impressed by him this time around, because “Hard Time Movin’ On” is a shining gem.
Of our first timers, don’t miss guitar picking Mississippian Ben Hall. He’s barely out of his teens, but he plays like a sage wizard.
For songwriting excellence, I bow my head to Corey Smith. This guy has reportedly been making music on his own label for years. It’s high time the wider world became aware of a talent so big. Give the man a DisCovery Award.
All of this is not to suggest that our established talents have grown soft. Au contraire. Richie McDonald and Jason Michael Carroll are still in fine form. Even more impressive is titan Tom Jones. He may be singing in a lower register, but at age 70 he can still grip your heart and command you to listen.
Our Disc of the Day prize goes to Jake Owen. Successful songwriting, they say, is finding a new way to say the same old thing. “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” is the beer-girls-cars-summer-party theme yet again. But his record makes it all sound fresh.
MARGARET DURANTE/Maybe Tonight
Writer: Margaret Durante/Blair Daly/Rachel Proctor; Producer: James Stroud & Stephony Smith; Publisher: Emrose/Southside Independent/Internal Combustion/Kickin Grids/Adah’s Girl/EMI Blackwood, BMI; Stroudavarious/Emrose (www.margaretdurante.com)
—Sprightly and tuneful, with romping rhythm and a catchy, sunny chorus.
JASON MICHAEL CARROLL/Numbers
Writer: Patrick Davis/Rodney Clawson; Producer: Patrick Davis, Mark Dearnley & Jason Michael Carroll; Publisher: none listed; Quarterback (www.jasonmichaelcarroll.com)
—Very cutely written, using numbers both as meaningless integers and as meaningful signposts of life. Well worth your spins.
BRENNEN LEIGH/The Box
Writer: Brennan Leigh; Producer: Tommy Detamore & Brennan Leigh; Publisher: Footprints in the Snow, BMI; BL (track)
—The title tune to this Texas songbird’s mostly self-composed CD is like a splash of fresh spring water on your face. The simplicity of the production, the sweetness of the melody, her straightforward country delivery and the true-blue harmony vocal by Jim Lauderdale all add up to one dandy little track. If you like your country served straight-up, check out Ms. Brennen Leigh.
JAKE OWEN/Barefoot Blue Jean Night
Writer: Dylan Altman/Eric Paslay/Terry Sawchuk; Producer: Joey Moi & Rodney Clawson; Publisher: Hope-N-Cal/Cal IV/Papertown, BMI/ASCAP/SOCAN; RCA
—I have always liked this guy. This time out, he deploys a male cheering section, finger snaps, crashing percussion, rippling banjo and a restlessly jangling guitar to shout out a summer party anthem. Irresistible.
VICTORIA BANKS/Never Be the Same
Writer: Banks/Englund; Producer: Victoria Banks; Publisher: none listed; EMI/Onramp (track) (www.victoriabanks.net)
—The reigning Canadian Country Music Association’s Female Vocalist of the Year will stage her assault on the U.S. charts with a CD next month. Its title tune soars with chiming guitars and inspires with a lyric of growth and self-discovery. She wrote or co-wrote every song on the collection, and they are all pretty impressive little numbers.
COREY SMITH/Twenty One
Writer: Corey Smith; Producer: Rick Beato & Corey Smith; Publisher: Shooting Moon Music; Average Joes (www.coreysmith.com)
—I am told that this newcomer already has an impressive fan following. Based on this mini-masterpiece of a song, I can hear why. The lilting melody is wrapped around a lyric that is one slice of life after another. His voice aches in all the right places. This is country music doing what it does best, telling the Truth.
RICHIE McDONALD/Footprints on the Moon
Writer: Richie McDonald/Tommy Lee James; Producer: Richie McDonald & Tommy Lee James; Publisher: Loremoma/Still Working for the Man, BMI; Loremoma (CDX) (615-275-7003)
—The message is “dare to dream big,” “there’s nothing you can’t do” and “take a leap of faith.” The hook is, “Don’t believe the sky’s the limit/There are footprints on the moon.” As usual, his plaintive tenor is pitched way up high on a keyboards-guitar-piano-strings ballad. On the fade, you hear a 1969 audio clip of those immortal words, “That’s one small step for man…”
TOM JONES/Burning Hell
Writer: John Lee Hooker/Richard Besman; Producer: Ethan Johns; Publisher: Sony-ATV/Universal, no performance rights listed; Lost Highway (track)
—The fact that this living legend has a current CD on Nashville’s Lost Highway imprint has received surprisingly little attention. It is titled Praise & Blame and consists of this soul man’s interpretations of American gospel. He’s darkly bluesy and supremely compelling on this blistering, hypnotizing track. Elsewhere, Tom takes on tunes from Pop Staples, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Billy Joe Shaver (the sublimely countrified “If I Give My Soul”), Jesse May Hemphill and Bob Dylan. The man can still turn up the heat.
BEN HALL/Cannonball Rag
Writer: Travis; Producer: Eric Ambel; Publisher: none listed; Tompkins Square/Fontana (track) (www.tompkinssquare.com)
—Somewhere, the late guitar greats Merle Travis and Chet Atkins are smiling. This youngster picks echoey electric guitar with the deft touch of the masters. Backed simply by bass and drums, his self-titled CD is a thing of charm. He sings some, but his fingers are the star here.
DAVID BRADLEY/Hard Time Movin’ On
Writer: Rivers Rutherford/Gordie Sampson; Producer: Brady Seals; Publisher: Universal/Songs of Combustion, BMI/ASCAP; Gecko Music Productions (track) (www.davidbradleymusic.com)
—In a word, “Wow.” He sings like a hillbilly angel. The production throbs with tension and drama. The heartache in the song burns and hurts. Rodney Crowell provides tenor harmony. What more could you possibly want?
I live for listening sessions like this one.