DISClaimer Single Reviews (10/24/12)

Paul Sikes, Tim McDonald, A.J. Downing, Jana Kramer

Last week, I couldn’t find any newcomers to like, and this week the opposite is true.

No DisCovery Award was handed out when the pickins were slim. Now, I have three of them to bestow. They go to Sony-ATV writer Paul Sikes, rootsy Texan A.J. Downing and suburban Nashvillian Tim McDonald. Congratulations, fellows.

By contrast, all of the Disc of the Day contenders are women — Kathy Mattea, Sarah Darling, Holly Williams and our winner, Jana Kramer.

JANA KRAMER/Whiskey
Writer: Catt Gravitt/Sam Mizell; Producer: Scott Hendricks; Publisher: Ink Pen Mama/Songs of Max/Tunes of R&T Direct/Razor & Tie/Be My Lamb/On Like a Neckbone/Simpleville, SESAC/BMI; Elektra/Warner Bros.
—At times, I had to strain to hear the lyric clearly, but there’s no denying the ultimate listening pleasure. She regrets the bad boy she fell for while harmony singers, fiddles, guitars, steel and mandolins chime and echo all around her.

A.J. DOWNING/My Wagon Just Won’t Roll
Writer: A.J. Downing; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Charkansas (track) (www.ajdowning.com)
—Downing’s CD is titled Good Day, and it kicks off with this ragged-but-right thumper. His country drawl is instantly engaging, and when you tune into his talent as a lyricist, you’ll be as hooked as I was. Sure, the instrumentation lacks Music Row polish, but sometimes a sound that is a little rough around the edges is just what the doctor ordered.

PAUL SIKES/My Epitaph
Writer: Paul Sikes; Producer: Paul Sikes; Publisher: Sony-ATV Cross Keys, ASCAP; 7-Layer (track) (www.paulsikes.com)
—The Sikes CD — titled Craft — isn’t due until January, but he has already created a stir with this tune from it. When Today show co-host Hoda Kotb was in town, she caught his set at The Bluebird and invited him to perform this on national TV. It is a moving, delicate elegy, a tender message to a loved one that says, basically, that after he’s gone the only thing that needs to be remembered about him is the love he gave.

HOLLY WILLIAMS/Drinkin’
Writer: Holly Williams; Producer: Charlie Peacock & Holly Williams; Publisher: none listed; HW (track) (www.hollywilliams.com)
—The forthcoming Holly Williams CD will be called Highway. On it, she is moving in an Americana direction with her talented co-producer Charlie Peacock. She is also even more startling as a singer-songwriter than she was before. This lead track spotlights her aching vocal delivery as well as her knife-sharp talent as a wordsmith. This is what modern country music ought to be doing.

STEVE LUSCOMBE/I’m a Natural
Writer: Alex Smith/Rock Carroll; Producer: Dan Drilling; Publisher: none listed; Taytown (track) (www.steveluscombe.com)
—The song is well constructed, and he sings it well. But the tempo is taken way, way too slowly. It sounds like he is trying to swim in molasses.

KATHY MATTEA/Hello, My Name Is Coal
Writer: Larry Cordle/Jenee Fleenor; Producer: Gary Paczosa & Kathy Mattea; Publisher: Wanderchord/NayerPuddingPie, BMI/SESAC; Sugar Hill (track) (www.mattea.com)
—Mattea’s latest CD, Calling Me Home, is a song cycle about her Appalachian homeland. This latest emphasis track couldn’t be more timely as it both reveres and reviles “black gold.” “Some say I’m a savior; some say death is what I bring,” rings out over a minor-key acoustic melody. Haunting.

SARAH DARLING/Home To Me
Writer: Caitlyn Smith/Bobby Hamrick; Producer: Dann Huff; Publisher: Music of Stage Three/Songs of Carrman/BMG/EMI Foray/Turning Twenties/Dollarsandpense, BMI/SESAC; Black River
—This endearing, lilting love song compares her beau to the some of the best of America’s states. As always, her delivery is as sweet as sugar. Radio ready in the extreme.

AARON LEWIS/Forever
Writer: none listed; Producer: James Stroud & Aaron Lewis; Publisher: none listed; Blaster (track)
—The former Staind rock singer continues his bid for country acceptance with this midtempo, moody meditation on a fading romance that just might rekindle. Abundant steel guitar is a big plus here.

TIM McDONALD/Livin’ Breathin’ Havin’ Fun
Writer: Tim McDonald; Producer: Tim McDoanld & Bill Warner; Publisher: none listed; TM (track) (www.timmcdonaldband.com)
—The title tune to McDonald’s CD is a lovely, nostalgic trip down memory lane. To the accompaniment of rippling guitars and gentle keyboard work, he sings of his days of youth and innocence while visiting the Arlington grave of a buddy. His songwriting skill is outstanding, and his gently persuasive vocal is perfectly delivered. Elsewhere on the disc are such enticing titles as “Beer’s Good Food,” “I’d Be Screwed,” “Every Song Sounds the Same” and “Shit List.” Take my word for it, the guy can definitely write and sing.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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