This listening session was dominated by hit makers of yore.
Ricky Skaggs, Tracy Lawrence, Sawyer Brown, Michael Martin Murphey and Roy Head with Jeff Chance are all on board with new sounds. Ricky and Tracy, in particular, are audio delights.
For those of you of a more contemporary mindset, I present this season’s top two finalists from the 2011 edition of American Idol. Ironically, it’s the number-two finisher who finishes first in this column. Give Lauren Alaina a Disc of the Day.
My DisCovery Award winner has been knocking them dead at folk festivals, bluegrass conventions, cowboy poetry gatherings and Lone Star State gigs for several years now. Not to mention having guested on the Grand Ole Opry, appeared on Marty Stuart’s TV show and at The Kennedy Center, The Birchmere, The Ernest Tubb Record Shop’s Midnight Jamboree and fiddle contests galore. It is The Quebe Sisters Band. This group swings, western style. It is acoustic and cool. Listen and believe.
SCOTTY McCREERY/I Love You This Big
Writer: L. Ronnie/E. Dean/B. James; Producer: Mark Bright; Publisher: none listed; 19/Interscope/Mercury (CDX)
—This debut single by the American Idol champ is well sung, beautifully produced and unmistakably country. But the ballad is simplistic, predictable and ultimately dreary.
GEORGE STRAIT/Here For A Good Time
Writer: George Strait/Bubba Strait/Dean Dillon; Producer: Tony Brown & George Strait; Publisher: Day Money/HoriPro/Living for the Night/Sixteen Stars/Tenorado, ASCAP/BMI; MCA Nashville (CDX)
—George Strait goes uptempo! And with words to live by: “I ain’t here for a long time/I’m here for a good time.”
THE QUEBE SISTERS BAND/Along The Navajo Trail
Writer: Dick Charles/Larry Markes/Eddie DeLange; Producer: Joey McKenzie; Publisher: Scarsdale/Universal MCA, ASCAP; Fiddletone (track) (www.quebesistersband.com)
—The Quebe Sisters Band is anchored by three sisters—Grace, Sophia and Hulda Quebe–who hail from the Fort Worth suburb of Burleson, Texas. They have two CDs to date, an all-instrumental effort from 2003 called Texas Fiddlers, and a newer one titled Timeless. The latter includes this track that demonstrates their dazzling instrumental prowess, their lovely trio harmony vocals and their total swing-ability. The band (which also includes guitarist/producer Joey McKenzie and upright bass man Drew Phelps) is occasionally featured on Marty Stuart’s RFD-TV show. It draws loads of fan mail whenever it does.
SAWYER BROWN/Smokin’ Hot Wife
Writer: Mark Miller; Producer: Mark Miller; Publisher: Travelin’ Zoo, no performance rights listed; Beach Street
—Country music’s upteen-millionth rip off of Jimmy Buffett’s groove.
TRACY LAWRENCE/The Singer
Writer: Rick Huckaby/Kenneth Wright; Producer: Tracy Lawrence & Flip Anderson; Publisher: 13thAve/I-40/Songs of Nicholson/Kenneth Wright, BMI; LMG (CDX) (615-347-9563)
—His voice is more resonant and rich than ever. The well-constructed song reflects on a life that isn’t perfect—all the narrator wishes to be remembered for is the fact that he is/was simply a fine singer. And this man certainly is.
ROY HEAD & JEFF CHANCE/Can’t Turn ‘Em Down At All
Writer: Sam Lee/Luther Goff; Producer: Sam Lee & Roy Head; Publisher: Stages@Players, ASCAP; Music Master (CDX) (979-849-5131)
—Head was a steady presence on the country charts in 1974-85. Although never a major hit maker, he generally turned in genial, upbeat, lightly rocking fare. This comeback single, recorded with fellow Texan Jeff Chance, is very much in his classic style.
MICHAEL MARTIN MURPHEY/The James Gang Trilogy
Writer: Michael Martin Murphey, plus Hal Ketchum/Gary Burr; Producer: Ryan Murphey & Pat Flynn; Publisher: Rocking 3M, BMI, plus Universal, BMI; Rural Rhythm (track) (www.michaelmartinmurphey.com)
—For the past several years, Murphey has been combining his love of western songs with bluegrass instrumentation. His third CD in this vein is titled Tall Grass & Cool Water. In addition to a clutch of standards (”Cool Water,” “Way Out There,” “Blue Prairie”), it includes a number of the singer’s reworkings of public-domain cowboy numbers. Two of the songs in this trilogy—“The Ballad of Cole Younger” and “The Ballad of Jesse James”—are Murphey’s versions of folk songs that tell the story of the Missouri/Kansas outlaws of the James Gang. The third, a lilting ballad called “Frank James Farewell,” comes from highly respected Nashville singer-songwriters Hal Ketchum and Gary Burr. Frank James was the gang member who survived, and in this lyric he wistfully recalls his colorful past.
RICKY SKAGGS/Don’t Get Above Your Raising
Writer: Lester Flatt/Earl Scruggs; Producer: Ricky Skaggs; Publisher: APRS/Peer, BMI; Skaggs Family (track) (www.skaggsfamilyrecords.com)
—Speaking of bluegrass, Ricky’s latest CD is titled Country Hits Bluegrass Style. It recasts his own singles of the 1980s as bluegrass tunes. But, hello, songs like this (plus “Uncle Pen,” “Crying My Heart Out Over You” and “I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could”) were originally bluegrass tunes that he turned into mainstream country, so he’s just taking them back to where they were in the first place. That said, the whole album is brilliantly performed. Something like eight out of his last 10 projects have been oldie remakes of one sort or another. Can we please have a set of new bluegrass songs from this top-tier artist?
TEEA GOANS/Letter From God
Writer: Angela Kaset/Rob Crosby; Producer: Terry Choate; Publisher: Ten Ten/Friday Records/Evergreen/Palmetto Moon, ASCAP/BMI; Crosswind (CDX) (615-467-3860)
—I am an enormous fan of this sublimely country vocalist. As usual, she nails every note of the performance. She dreams she gets a letter from the Almighty that tells her to live right. I have that dream all the time. Only it’s an email.
LAUREN ALAINA/Like My Mother Does
Writer: Nathan Chapman/Liz Rose/Nicole Williams; Producer: C. “Tricky” Stewart; Publisher: none listed; 19/Interscope/Mercury (CDX)
—The second-place finisher on this year’s edition of American Idol stages her disc debut with a power ballad. It tugs at the heart strings as it celebrates the strength, love and guidance of a beloved mom. Hang on for the soaring, goose-bumpy key change at the finale. You’d have to be made of stone to resist this. Coincidentally, this song appeared as a track on the debut CD by Kristy Lee Cook, an Idol alumna of 2008. (It was also a single for Atlantic newcomer Jesse Lee last year.)
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